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author imageSophie MorganSophie Morgan is a TV presenter, artist, designer, campaigner, and a patron for the disability charity ScopeSaturday 14 Jul 2018 3:49 pm

UK airports need to do a lot better when it comes to assistance for disabled travellers

Airport services for disabled travellers are often subpar (Picture: Getty)

Recently, I was flying to London Gatwick from Scotland on the first flight of the day.

The usual procedure on arrival for wheelchair users like me is to wait for all the other passengers to leave the plane before assistance staff arrive to help us off. So, I waited as all the seats emptied.

The cleaning team came on board and the airline staff chatted away as they swapped shifts for the next flight. I checked the time; 20 minutes had passed.

Awkwardly, the airline staff winced as they shrugged their shoulders, baffled about what was happening.

Did you actually book assistance? they asked accusingly before wandering off to look for someone to give them an answer as to why I was still sat alone on the empty aircraft, holding up their next flight.

A further half an hour passed, and still I couldnt move.

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After waiting for an hour, someone from the assistance staff finally arrived, dragging a specially designed wheelchair narrow enough to fit down the aisle, and asked me to get on it.

As I transferred myself into the aisle chair, I asked him what had happened to cause the delay. Not my fault he snapped as he shoved me down to the exit.

I was eventually reunited with my wheelchair, which had been kept in the hold for the flight, and set free from the airport with absolutely no apologies and no idea who to turn to for help. The man simply wandered off. There was no one to hold to account for my mistreatment.

SILHOUETTE OF WOMAN IN WHEELCHAIR

(Picture: Getty)

Unfortunately, this situation is all too familiar for wheelchair users, and is by no means the worst that has happened.

Broken chairs, inaccessible toilets, rude staff and inconsistent service means that flying can be a daunting experience made more frustrating by apathetic staff.

It came as no great surprise to most of us that the Civil Aviation Authority found four of our biggest airports to be falling short in providing access for disabled travelers this week.

Bottom of the list is Manchester airport, which has been rated as poor for the second year running.

Embarrassingly, Heathrow Airport, one for the largest airports in the world, has been labeled as simply good.

That may be an improvement from last years poor but still sees it trailing behind smaller airports such as Newquay, Aberdeen and Sumburgh, which have all upped their game to meet the very good mark.

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There wasnt a higher category than that by the way – excellence apparently hasnt been achieved yet.

Disappointingly, London Gatwick failed to provide enough information about the standard of service at the airport for them to be assessed by the CAA.

More: Travel

Before this all gets too depressing and stops anyone disabled from venturing into an airport in the UK ever again, I want to draw attention to a couple of points.

Firstly, the fact that some improvements have been made. The report found that most airports have improved their treatment of disabled people.

Of course, this may be down to the fact that one in five people in the UK have a disability and over three million of us requested assistance last year. Demand has perhaps given them no choice but to improve.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this report has effectively and successfully named and shamed those airports that are failing, so that hopefully, the next time a disabled travellers needs arent met, they will listen and learn.

The sky should be the limit on the standards our airports aim to achieve.

MORE: A new travelling art exhibition to highlight the experiences of disabled passengers

MORE: Anger grows over train companies scrapping help for disabled people

MORE: 7 surprising challenges of travelling with a disability

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