Heathrow did not meet minimum accessibility standards for disabled passengers in the year to March, the industry regulator said.
The airport was the only airport in the UK rated “poor” and “in need of improvement” by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for all four quarters of the period, according to the report.
During the 12 months covered, 18 airports received good or very good ratings and seven airports improved from poor to good. However, Heathrow was an outlier, not meeting the criteria for a good rating over the period.
“Last year we did not provide an adequate level of service for passengers who required additional support on their journey through the airport,” Heathrow COO Emma Gilthorpe said.
Between 2019 and 2022, disabled and less mobile passengers accounted for 2.38% of all passengers at Heathrow, the highest proportion in the UK, according to the regulator.
“I want to reassure those riders that we have a strong plan in place that is changing that and we are now meeting service targets,” Gilthorpe said.
The report covers 26 of the UK’s largest airports, in an industry that has faced unprecedented challenges in recruitment, strike action and equipment shortages since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, the airport was one of several, including Bristol, Leeds Bradford and Luton, to come under scrutiny by the aviation regulator after many disabled and less mobile passengers missed flights or had to wait for long periods.
Scope, a disability charity in England and Wales, described the findings as a “world away” from the reality of disabled passengers being shortchanged by the airline industry.
“Rather than the industry setting its own homework, there needs to be much harsher punishments to reflect the seriousness of these problems,” said Charlotte Morley, consumer affairs policy adviser for the charity.
“Enough is enough. It is time to start fining airlines and airports when they fail disabled passengers. The government has promised to introduce more legislation, but it must happen now. People with disabilities have been waiting too long.”
In 2022, a CAA survey found disabled respondents with physical disabilities or health conditions said they were much more likely to experience difficulties accessing airports or flying, with 70% of such passengers requiring assistance.
The number of passengers requiring assistance has increased in recent years. In 2022, 3.45 million people, or 1.56% of all passengers, received assistance at UK airports, compared to 1.35% of passengers requiring assistance before the pandemic.
The CAA’s joint interim executive director, Paul Smith, said the industry was making leaps and bounds to return to levels of accessibility to those seen before Covid-19.
“It is also important to recognize that there is still some way to go to provide consistently good service for disabled and less mobile passengers across the industry, particularly for those with more complex needs, and during the busier summer months,” he said. Smith.