The aviation watchdog has told airports to address “unacceptable” failings affecting disabled people and warned it could use legal enforcement powers if they continue.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had seen an increase in reports of “significant service failings”, including incidents where passengers needing assistance have been taken off a plane hours after other passengers.
In a letter, group director of consumers and markets Paul Smith said the incidents were unacceptable and distressing for those involved.
“It is also self-evident that those with less mobility will find it more difficult to access support at airports when things go wrong, as compared to a passenger who might be able to seek out airport staff to assist with baggage delays, for example,” he added.
The authority believes these incidents could have been avoided by better management of assistance service function, despite the current travel disruptions.
The CAA will ask all airports with a high number of passengers using assistance services to set out what additional measures they have taken to address the issue by June 21.
“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,” he said.
It comes after a woman who is paralysed from the neck down was left stranded on a plane for more than 90 minutes last week when airport staff failed to arrive to provide assistance.
Victoria Brignell, from Shepherd’s Bush, west London, was returning home on Saturday following a holiday in Malta through Gatwick Airport, West Sussex.
Ms Brignell explained: “Shortly after landing the BA airline staff came up to me and said they’re sorry but the people who are meant to help get me off the plane would not be there for 50 minutes.
“Time passed and I was then told it would be another half an hour on top of that. In the end I was waiting an hour and 35 minutes.
“I am paralysed from the neck down so I can’t use my arms or legs. To get off a plane I need two people to lift me from the airplane seat into an aisle chair, which is a specially designed narrow wheelchair to push me along the aisle off the plane, and lift me into my wheelchair waiting outside.”