The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority put the aviation sector on notice by writing a letter to all airports demanding an end to delayed assistance for disabled passengers.
The CAA recognizes the efforts made by airports to ensure that for the vast majority of passengers, assistance is being provided in a timely manner despite the current challenges. The Regulator expressed disappointment that in recent months there has been a decline in quality of service at some airports.
“Our own reporting framework tells us that many more disabled and less mobile passengers have had to wait longer for assistance than usual. Although obviously a concern to us and frustrating for those passengers it has affected, we do understand the recruitment challenges for staff to provide the assistance service as part of the general recruitment challenge in aviation,” the letter says.
In recent weeks, not a day went by where an incident involving a disabled passenger didn't make headlines. Passengers who are forgotten on planes and people who were denied boarding because of their disabilities have become more prevalent in recent times. Airlines have also come under fire for lengthy waits to reunite passengers with their wheelchairs.
“More effort is needed from all parties through local operational working groups to ensure that operational resilience is enhanced so that the current general disruption does not unduly impact assistance provision,” the Civil Aviation authority added.
U.K. legislation, enforced by the CAA, identifies subjects responsible for the provision of services and support, as well as describes the type of services available. It also establishes verification and enforcement mechanisms.
The law divides responsibility for the provision of services to disabled passengers between airports and airlines. Airports are responsible for assisting passengers from the time they arrive at the airport until they get on the flight. Airlines are responsible for assisting passengers onboard the aircraft and transporting personal wheelchairs.
“Notwithstanding the challenges noted above, the CAA is very concerned about the increase in reports that we have received of significant service failings, some of which have been highlighted through the media. These significant service failings are simply unacceptable,” the letter to the aviation sector states. “It is our view that, despite the current disruption, these incidents could have been avoided by better management of the assistance service function by airports and their contracted service providers and better co-ordination between all parties - airports, airlines, and contracted service providers - across the entire passenger journey.”
In an unprecedented move, the Civil Aviation Authority put the entire aviation sector on notice and set a deadline for every operator to improve the quality of service disabled passengers receive.
“We will be asking all airports with a high number of passengers using the assistance service, having worked with their airline and ground handling partners, to write to us by 21 June to set out what further assurance they have, and additional measures they have taken, to stop the significant service failures happening in the future. We will continue to closely monitor the quality of service provided and if these significant service failures continue, we will consider whether further action is needed, including using enforcement powers.”
The Civil Aviation Authority is different from other government departments that have more legal tools at their disposal. However, the one that has proven most effective for them is known as Legal Undertaking.
Within this legally binding framework, the airport undertakes to develop a performance improvement plan that will help ensure that it is able to provide a high-quality, consistent service to disabled persons. The Civil Aviation Authority is tasked with ensuring that the airport is fully compliant with all of the agreements laid out by the two parties. If any one of these agreements is not met by the airport, the CAA undertakes legal action against the airport.