Heathrow boss blames 'fake injury' viral TikTok videos for delays to wheelchair users

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has said people faking injuries inspired by a TikTok craze is putting pressure on airport staff. (LBC/TikTok)

The boss of Britain's busiest airport has said a TikTok craze is partly to blame for causing delays for wheelchair users at airports.

In recent weeks, airports have been accused of failing disabled passengers and warned they face fines if they don't improve their service.

On Saturday, it emerged one disabled passenger had to be helped off a plane by the pilot after he was left waiting for 30 minutes.

Responding to the criticism, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said demand for wheelchair support had "significantly increased" in recent months.

Asked about reports of 20 wheelchair passengers being stuck in an allocated area of Heathrow Terminal 3 last week with no air conditioning, Holland-Kaye said the demand for passenger assistance had increased compared to before the pandemic, and said TikTok was partly to blame.

"Some of this is because people are using the wheelchair support to try to get fast-tracked through the airport," he told LBC. "That is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing, we need to protect that for the people who most need help.

"If you go on TikTok you will see that is one of the travel hacks that people are recommending. Please don’t do that we need to protect the service for the people who need it most."

Read more: London's Heathrow airport apologises for travel disruptions

John Holland-Kaye told LBC that demand for wheelchair support has "significantly increased" in recent months. (LBC)

A video showing a passenger skipping queues at Ibiza Airport, Spain, by feigning injury to get a wheelchair has been viewed 2.5 million times on TikTok.

In the clip, the man can be seen taking his shoe and sock off to pretend he has an injury, before being pushed through the airport and skipping queues.

The man is then shown standing up and walking away after the flight.

Holland-Kaye added another issue was that "half of all the people who ask for the service only ask once they are on the plane", meaning those who need the service and have pre-booked might lose out.

A video shared on TikTok showed a creator faking an injury to get a wheelchair and avoid queues. (TikTok)

Many travellers using the airport this summer have faced long queues, with the situation blamed on staff shortages.

A cap on daily departing passenger numbers was introduced earlier this month to ease the pressure.

Ryanair chief financial officer, Neil Sorahan, blamed airports for not recruiting enough staff, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that airports “had one job to do” and should be held to account for “not staffing up appropriately”.

Holland-Kaye responded: “It was ridiculous. They were blaming airports for not having enough ground handling staff. Ground handling is the responsibility of the airline."

In June, the Civil Aviation Authority wrote to airports urging them to take action following a "a dip in performance" in providing assistance to disabled and less mobile passengers. It said: "The CAA is very concerned about the increase in reports that we have received of significant service failings, some of which have been highlighted through the media. These significant service failings are simply unacceptable"

Watch: Travellers wait in long lines at Heathrow Airport

“So that’s like them blaming us because they haven’t got enough pilots.

“They need to take responsibility for their ground handling.”

On 12 July, Heathrow introduced a cap of 100,000 daily departing passengers until September 11, leading to more flights being cancelled on top of the tens of thousands that had already been axed this summer.

The decision came after many passengers flying to and from the airport suffered severe disruption in recent months, with long security queues and baggage system breakdowns.

Holland-Kaye said the pandemic left the aviation sector “deeply scarred”.

He went on: “The next few years will need investment to rebuild capacity, with a focus on safety, consumer service, resilience and efficiency.

“Airlines need to recruit and train more ground handlers; airports need to catch up on underinvestment during the Covid years – at Heathrow, that means replacing the Terminal 2 baggage system and new security lanes.”