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BBC’s Frank Gardner is left on a jet for a fifth time – yet airlines deny the problem

Frank Gardner’s tweet on Thursday summed up his frustration: ‘FFS not again! Just why are UK airports so consistently crap at getting disabled people off planes?’

Gatwick staff employed to assist disabled passengers had failed to show up, leaving the BBC‘s security correspondent – who had flown back with Iberia Express after covering the Nato summit in Madrid – stranded, alone, in the cabin.

Gardner, who uses a wheelchair, said this time he was ‘only’ left for 20 minutes, but added: ‘I have personally been left stranded on a plane five times in four years, waiting in an empty aircraft long after all the other passengers have been offloaded. 

‘This is nothing short of discriminatory and Britain’s premier air hubs should be ashamed of the way their disabled passengers have been repeatedly treated as a low priority.’

The incident came less than a week after The Mail on Sunday and Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson launched a campaign to end indignities faced by people with disabilities when travelling.

Frank Gardner’s tweet on Thursday summed up his frustration: ‘FFS not again! Just why are UK airports so consistently crap at getting disabled people off planes?’ (Above, Gardner in 2017)

Gatwick staff employed to assist disabled passengers had failed to show up, leaving the BBC's security correspondent – who had flown back with Iberia Express after covering the Nato summit in Madrid – stranded, alone, in the cabin. (Above, the recent photo he tweeted)

Gatwick staff employed to assist disabled passengers had failed to show up, leaving the BBC’s security correspondent – who had flown back with Iberia Express after covering the Nato summit in Madrid – stranded, alone, in the cabin. (Above, the recent photo he tweeted)

Above, his despairing social media post. Gardner, who uses a wheelchair, said this time he was 'only' left for 20 minutes, but added: 'I have personally been left stranded on a plane five times in four years, waiting in an empty aircraft long after all the other passengers have been offloaded'

Above, his despairing social media post. Gardner, who uses a wheelchair, said this time he was ‘only’ left for 20 minutes, but added: ‘I have personally been left stranded on a plane five times in four years, waiting in an empty aircraft long after all the other passengers have been offloaded’

The 11-time gold medallist revealed that she had been forced to crawl to the toilet on one flight, as no one would assist her. After another flight, the airline lost her wheelchair for three months.

The Baroness called on the Government and airline bosses to take immediate action, and ensure all disabled passengers are treated with dignity and respect.

And letters have poured in from MoS readers, recalling their own travel nightmares.

Many tales beggar belief. One woman’s disabled daughter had been forced to use a toilet on a flight with the door open, because there were no handrails that would have helped her use the facilities alone.

Others had missed crucial connecting flights because the special assistance they needed never arrived.

A 75-year-old man described how airline staff refused to help him get his disabled wife, who suffers from dementia, from her seat to the toilet.

There was an outpouring of public support as stories were shared and commented on thousands of times online – yet, frustratingly, the response from airline bosses and politicians, who are ultimately responsible for ensuring that disabled Britons are given adequate support, was lukewarm at best.

We contacted all British airlines and airports, as well as the aviation watchdog and Government Ministers, and asked if any would commit to the demands set out by Baroness Grey-Thompson.

The incident came less than a week after The Mail on Sunday and Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (pictured) launched a campaign to end indignities faced by people with disabilities when travelling

The incident came less than a week after The Mail on Sunday and Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (pictured) launched a campaign to end indignities faced by people with disabilities when travelling

Chloe Smith, the Government’s Minister for Disabled People, said she felt ‘passionately’ about the issue but argued it was the responsibility of the Department for Transport to force the travel industry to make changes.

The Department for Transport, run by Grant Shapps, said it was up to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it would ‘consider some of the ideas’ proposed by Baroness Grey-Thompson in an upcoming new set of guidelines for airlines – yet the regulator previously said that for change to happen, the Government must lead the way.

As for the airlines and airports, they also showed little appetite for change. Both London Stansted and Manchester airports said that the issue was largely out of their control, as they claimed the airlines were responsible for caring for disabled passengers.

Chloe Smith, the Government's Minister for Disabled People, said she felt 'passionately' about the issue but argued it was the responsibility of the Department for Transport to force the travel industry to make changes. The Department for Transport, run by Grant Shapps (above), said it was up to the Civil Aviation Authority

Chloe Smith, the Government’s Minister for Disabled People, said she felt ‘passionately’ about the issue but argued it was the responsibility of the Department for Transport to force the travel industry to make changes. The Department for Transport, run by Grant Shapps (above), said it was up to the Civil Aviation Authority

But according to easyJet, the current regulations don’t allow airlines to provide special assistance services directly – they are third-party contractors, employed by the airports – so cabin crew cannot help passengers stuck in the situation Frank Gardner and so many others have found themselves in.

British Airways claims it is already ‘accessible to all’ – ignoring the recent incident in which television producer Victoria Brignell, a wheelchair user, was stuck in her seat for an hour and a half before she was helped off a BA jet at Gatwick Airport.

The airline also failed to commit to any of Baroness Grey-Thompson’s demands.

Heathrow said it ‘wouldn’t comment’ on specifics, but is ‘working closely’ with airlines and regulatory bodies on making improvements for disabled passengers.

Ryanair simply did not respond to our requests for a comment.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Baroness Grey-Thompson said: ‘People are worried about travelling. The industry can’t hide and action needs to be taken.’

Our five key demands

1 Fine airports and rail operators that keep disabled passengers waiting on planes and on trains for special assistance.

2 Wheelchair users allowed to use their own chair to the plane door – and the chair waiting for them when they arrive.

3 Storage space for at least one collapsible wheelchair in the cabin of every plane, so they don’t have to go in the hold.

4 An accessible toilet on every aircraft.

5 A disability champion on board every flight, fully trained in accessibility needs and able to assist passengers if they need it.

James Taylor, director of strategy at disability charity Scope, added: ‘Our transport system fails disabled people,’ he said. ‘It’s time for the Government, transport operators and regulators to step up and take responsibility. This has been going on too long.’

One Mail on Sunday reader who got in touch was Martin Wilson, who suffers from a type of muscular dystrophy. His wife struggles to walk after two knee replacements, and the couple had requested help disembarking from a Jet2 flight from Faro to Manchester Airport last month. 

‘We arrived at 2.20am but were left on the plane for an hour. There were no wheelchairs, so we were given sticks to help us walk. We eventually got through passport control and started our journey home to Merseyside at 5.20am, three hours after landing.’

Another was 25-year-old Georgia Hart from Hartlepool, who was on a Jet2 flight from Malta to Newcastle without an accessible loo. When she needed to go, her mother, Bev, had to help her sit and stand inside with her – so the door couldn’t be closed. Bev wrote: ‘I have not seen Georgia cry for a long time, but she had just had enough.’

Jet2 said it was ‘sorry to hear’ about the incidents, but that their toilets were no different to anyone elses, and special assistance wasn’t their responsibility.

Irene Wilson, 69, from Merseyside, missed her onward flight from Frankfurt to Lyon earlier this month. The lift she needed to exit the plane did not arrive, meaning she missed her connecting flight.

Figures from 2019 show that 700 disabled people missed flights between 2015 and 2018 because special assistance either failed to show up on time or the appropriate equipment was available.

Mr Taylor said: ‘No disabled passenger should be left stuck on a plane, or a train, whether due to staff shortages, delays or miscommunication,’ he said.

‘The impact is often degrading, stressful and anxiety-inducing and stops some disabled people from travelling altogether.’


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