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Mon, 21 September 2020

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Baroness Sugg & Sarah Newton MP: A truly inclusive flying experience

Baroness Sugg & Sarah Newton MP: A truly inclusive flying experience
4 min read

The Minister for Aviation and the Minister for Disabled People sets out what the Government is doing to improve disabled passenger's experience. 

Many of us look forward to going on holiday and getting away from it all, and flying offers an incredible opportunity to reach destinations across the world. But for some passengers with a disability there can be barriers to overcome before they even board the plane.  We’ve seen reports of incidents including lost wheelchairs, passengers abandoned on planes or requests for assistance not taken seriously.

Passengers with disabilities should never be treated as an afterthought. We need to make sure that disabled people have the same access to flying as everyone else and that they can travel in the confidence that they will have the support and assistance they need.

As the Minister for Aviation and Minister for Disabled People, we recently held a meeting to talk about solutions with airlines, airports, special assistant service providers, accessibility experts and campaign groups with lived experience of issues.

And as a result, the industry has committed to do more to support disabled passengers through their entire flying experience. We will be working with the CAA and the industry to develop solutions which will help drive up standards, improve the quality of service provided for disabled passengers and ensure we hold the industry to account.

This is great progress, but work still needs to be done to ensure every passenger can fly with confidence and receive the assistance they deserve with dignity.

And that’s why we are pleased the CAA has stepped up its efforts to highlight which airports are offering exemplary assistance and which airports are falling below standards. 

The CAA’s accessibility report published today shows there are 3 million requests for assistance at UK airports– a rise of almost 80 per cent since 2010. And it’s promising that 85 per cent of people requesting assistance said they were satisfied with their experience.

We know that the industry already recognises the importance of this issue and there’s some initiatives already underway to improve accessibility which we welcome. Examples include new processes for returning wheelchairs to passengers and lanyards to identify people who need support but may have a hidden disability.

Putting passengers at the heart of services isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. There are currently more than 11 million disabled people in the UK and the spending power of their households – ‘the purple pound’ – is around £250 billion. A strong industry like aviation can’t afford to ignore the needs of their customers.

And the Government will continue to support the industry to improve passengers’ experience

We know that people with reduced mobility are almost half as likely to have flown as all other passengers. As part of our Aviation Strategy, we are seeking to understand more about the barriers for travelling with disabilities and working with the industry to help remove these obstacles. 

We’ve already put forward some suggestions for improving accessibility which will be consulted on later this year, including working with the industry to provide better staff training, offer improved on-board facilities and exploring possible changes to future aircraft design.

If needed, this could also include tightening performance standards for enabling passengers to leave the plane and giving the CAA more powers for enforcement.

Of course it’s not just flying that can be difficult for passengers with reduced mobility. Shortly we’ll also be publishing an Inclusive Transport Strategy which will set out the Government’s long-term commitment to deliver a transport system which enables people with physical and hidden disabilities to travel in the same way as everyone else. 

Things are moving in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. We urge the whole industry – airports, airlines and companies providing services – to get on board with making flying a truly inclusive experience.


PoliticsHome Member, Scope, have responded to this article. James Taylor, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns, said “Disabled people say they continue to receive an inferior service to other passengers or have equipment damaged.” Read the full response here.

Read the most recent article written by Sarah Newton - We need everyone on board to rise to the challenge of climate change


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