The UK leading airlines warned the Department for Transport of the consequences for its reckless delays ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic games of summer 2012.
"As the situation currently stands the industry believes that there is a significant risk of severe delay and disruption at all of London's major airports unless urgent action is taken," a letter sent to the Department for Transport signed by the Operations Managers of British Airways, BMI, Virgin Atlantic and Easyjet says.
The airlines criticize the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority for dragging their feet on critical modifications on handling procedures of the UK airspace ahead of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.
Airlines warned the Government that, unless changes take place immediately, there is a significant risk of leaving London's airports at risk of significant disruptions. "Failure to respond [to the industry proposals] leaves the UK vulnerable to the type of major disruption that will cause significant reputational damage and would be foolhardy and reckless."
Airlines are worries increased passenger traffic will cause havoc in all London's airports, most of which are already operating at near capacity.
A recent case study of BAA, owner of Heathrow Airport, highlights up to a 45% increase from routine in arriving passengers on critical days of the summer games.
The study also shares details about assistance to disabled athletes competing in the 2012 Paralympics.
"Given the additional requirements for Paralympians we are working closely with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to gather all necessary information about passengers’ requirements," BAA said.
BAA highlights that aircraft turnaround times will be stretched because of the presence of an increased number of passengers with reduced mobility." Aircraft will take longer to offload when larger numbers of athletes and equipment are on board, so it is vital that an efficient process is adopted to avoid unnecessary delays."
A key component to ensure faster turnaround times is the fast repatriation of mobility devices. BAA says they are working with departure airports and airlines to ensure that wheelchair and other personal mobility devices are loaded and identified in a way that assists with the repatriation when the athletes arrive at Heathrow.
Unfortunately, BAA only mentions athletes. It remains unknown if regular passengers with reduced mobility will be extended the same attention and care.
To expedite processing athletes, BAA will check-in and baggage collection at the Olympic and Paralympic Village, and build additional lift to reunite Paralympians with their wheelchairs on arrival. Paralympic athletes will be processed through a dedicated Olympic Terminal.
BAA says that all other passengers with reduced mobility who depart from the Paralympic Games will be processed in the main terminals to minimise the number of coaches they get on and off. The main terminals departure process during the Games will be similar to today, but we will have more volunteers on hand to help.
What if anything goes wrong? Passengers with reduced mobility should complain with the airport managing body first. This cannot be as easy as one may assume.
Article 15 [of the EU Regulation for passengers with reduced mobility] It does not place an obligation on managing bodies. It entitles passengers who consider the Regulation to have been infringed to complain," Heathrow's PRM Manager Mark Hicks explained. "We are certainly not obliged to put a complaint link on any particular page of [Heathrow's] website; However, we do want to make it as easy as possible for passengers to get in touch with us if they have comments or concerns, hence the link on the website for passenger feedback."
If a passenger with reduced mobility still believes his concern has not been appropriately addressed, a complaint can be filed with the national complaint handling body.
This should be the Equality and Human Rights Commission for England, Scotland and Wales. However, the EHRC has recently decided to discontinue providing this service. "Unfortunately, due to our funding being cut, we are no longer able to offer conciliation for cases related to EC Air Regulations 1107," Chloe Driver, Helpline Advisor at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said.
However, the Civil Aviation Authority provides a complaint handling service in parallel to the EHRC. "If disabled passengers have any issues with complaining about their treatment with a UK airline, they are welcome to contact the CAA on 020 7453 6888," a Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson told Reduced Mobility Rights.
Conciliation is the best possible option on the table for disabled passengers who think their rights have been infringed. A recent ruling of the UK Court of Appeal established that the Montreal Convention supersedes the EU regulation. Therefore, PRMs can no longer sue airlines for "injury to feelings".
Violators will get away with a warning at best. While most EU countries have taken steps since mid-2008 the Department for Transport has not yet set penalties or transferred enforcement powers to civil procedure.
The Civil Aviation Authority admits having to rely on the industry's voluntary compliance to the regulation. "Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action," Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority said.
It appears the Department for Transport has a pivotal role in deciding the success, or catastrophic failure, of many aspects of the Olympic and Paralympic games of 2012.