How UK airports are improving their disabled facilities

Today Will Davies of Fubra talks about accessibility within UK airports:

With the Disabled Air Passengers’ Rights Regulation being put into practice back in 2008 and the number of special assistance passengers using air travel rising in the UK, pressure has really increased for UK airports to improve their disabled facilities and accessibility. In recent years there have been many noticeable changes at major UK airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick; but how effective have these changes been? Could UK airports be doing more to ease the hassle and stress that can come with journeying through an airport with a disability?

Heathrow Airport

Being the busiest airport in the UK, Heathrow have simply had to improve their facilities for special assistance passengers. One of the very first things that Heathrow decided to work on was helping special assistance passengers get to and around the airport; the Heathrow Express implemented things such as:

  • Platforms being leveled to the train
  • Unaided wheelchair access
  • Illuminated buttons with Audible signals
  • Spaces for wheelchair users on each carriage
  • Accessible toilets

Heathrow then decided to implement a special assistance bus which helps transfer special assistance passengers from terminal to terminal should they need it.

Major redevelopments were also apparent inside each of the Heathrow terminals with special assistance points being scattered around each of the terminals, Heathrow recommend that you pre-arrange your assistance to make sure that it is available and to ensure that no time is lost. Other things such as ramps, wider access pathways, disabled toilet facilities and reserved seating at check in areas have also been added to the airport.

How effective have these changes been? Well, whilst many argue that the changes have had a really positive impact for special assistance travellers, there are equally as many people who argue that more should be being done. Many passengers have complained that there is not enough communication between the Airline companies and the airport, with not enough wheelchairs being supplied and not enough staff on hand to help. Others have complained about the special assistance points, with one passenger quoting “even after waiting for 15 mins, I was not taken to the passport area until nearly an hour later”. To me, it sounds like the facilities at Heathrow are good for special assistance passengers, but the equipment and the way staff handle these passengers is not always up to standard. Overall, Heathrow receives a ‘reasonably good’ grade from me.

If you are thinking of travelling from Heathrow in the near future or would like to find out some more information about the airport, then head over to this comprehensive guide –

Gatwick Airport

For special assistance passengers, Gatwick Airport is seen as being the most ‘flexible’ when it comes to assistance and facilities. In addition to Heathrow’s facilities, Gatwick have also added PRM only areas in departure lounges as well as assistance ‘lanes’ to avoid collisions with other passengers and generally speed journeys up. Gatwick Airport recommend that special assistance passengers contact the airline company they are flying with 48 hours before the flight to ensure you can get the services you need whilst flying. Gatwick have also partnered with the charitable organisation ‘Travel Care’, who provide extra assistance should it be needed, they are located in the South Terminal.

Guide and hearing dogs are allowed into the airport and on airlines, providing they are signed up to the ‘PETS’ travel scheme and again, its advised that if you are travelling with a dog, your airline should be advised in advance. Gatwick Airport allow special assistance passengers to take their own equipment right up to the departure gate, but its very important that you make yourself known at the PRM desk after going through security.

So how effective are the facilities for special assistance passengers at Gatwick Airport? Gatwick have done more than Heathrow to improve the airport experience for special assistance passengers in my opinion, whilst passengers generally seem to be happier with their facilities and services. A German passenger quoted “Staff were really helpful with my wheelchair, service was friendly and efficient, from the pleasant checking in point right up to help getting onto the plane.” A few negatives included the disabled seating areas being overrun by McDonalds customers, duty managers refusing to speak with passengers and reduced mobility passengers accidently being told to use routes with stairs.

If you are thinking of travelling from Gatwick in the near future or would like to find out some more information about the airport, then head over to this comprehensive guide –

Parking at UK airports

Parking at the airport can be a nightmare sometimes, especially if you require special assistance. Luckily for special assistance passengers most UK airports have dedicated Blue Badge parking spaces, at Heathrow, these are located near the terminal access routes and at Gatwick they can be found in the short term and long term car parks. If you are parking at a UK airport in the near future then you may find this guide to disabled parking at airports very handy –

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