BBC's Frank Gardner criticises airline over disability access

Frank Gardner
Image caption Frank Gardner said the issue was "a generic problem"

A BBC correspondent has criticised the time it takes airlines and airports to assist disabled passengers off planes.

Security correspondent Frank Gardner says he was still waiting for help to disembark his flight at London Gatwick when the plane was about to be cleaned.

Mr Gardner, who uses a wheelchair, said the incident was "a generic problem" at UK airports, not an exception.

Easyjet has apologised and said it had raised the issue with the firm which provides special assistance at Gatwick.

Mr Gardner, who was returning from the French Alps on Sunday night, said he was left waiting for assistance for 20-30 minutes after landing at Gatwick.

He was still on the aircraft long after the other passengers had left.

Mr Gardner tweeted while he waited for assistance, saying he has since been contacted by disabled passengers who have shared his experience.

Image copyright @FRANKRGARDNER
Image copyright @FrankRGardner
Image copyright @FrankRGardner
Image copyright @FrankRGardner

Mr Gardner has used a wheelchair since being shot six times by militants while reporting in Saudi Arabia, in 2004.

He said disabled people travelling on planes were frequently left waiting for assistance when flights landed at gates without a passenger boarding bridge, or air bridge.

He said he had been told airlines often choose not to land at boarding gates with the retractable walkways to save money.

Instead, passengers are given assistance by a portable platform, called an ambulift, which at Gatwick is provided by outsourcing group OCS.

Financial penalties

"None of this is the exception, which is why I am raising it. This is what happens frequently when there is no air bridge," Mr Gardner said.

He said he last filed a complaint about the issue in 2009, after which he received a letter of apology, but the problem was now "tedious" and was not confined just to Easyjet or Gatwick.

He added: "I am pretty cynical about this because I have been travelling with a wheelchair for 12 years and I've not seen any improvement.

"Nothing will change unless there is perpetual bad publicity, or there are financial penalties."

A spokeswoman for Easyjet told the Guardian the firm was "sorry that Mr Gardner was delayed disembarking upon arrival at London Gatwick last night.

"We have taken this up with OCS who are the special assistance provider to all airlines at London Gatwick airport and are in contact with Mr Gardner about his experience."

OCS told Mr Gardner it had conducted a survey of more than 500 disabled passengers, which recommended more collaboration between airlines, airports and service providers.

Following the publication of the report, Steven Wheeler, customer services director for OCS, said: "Airlines, airports, baggage handlers and PRM service providers such as OCS Group are all committed to excellent customer service but it is clear that we need to collaborate more effectively."

The BBC has contacted OCS for a direct response to Mr Gardner's complaint.

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