A leading disabled people’s organisation has called on the local authorities that part-own Manchester Airport to address the “embarrassment” of it being found to be the worst airport in the country at providing assistance for disabled passengers.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced in its third annual review of the assistance provided at the UK’s airports that Manchester is now the only one assessed as “poor” for assistance.
In last year’s review, the airport was one of four described as “poor”, but CAA says the other three have all improved over the last 12 months.
Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when travelling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.
Manchester Airport is part of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which is nearly two-thirds owned by Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities, with Labour-run Manchester City Council owning more than a third of MAG.
CAA’s annual review of assistance services for 2017-18 said of Manchester Airport: “Information provided to us shows that disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility took significantly longer to move through the airport than other passengers, with an unacceptable number of disabled and reduced mobility passengers waiting more than 20 minutes for assistance with, in some cases, passengers left waiting for assistance for more than an hour.
“This is not an acceptable situation for passengers that need to use the assistance at the airport.”
Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) called on the 10 councils and the elected mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to pressure the airport to improve its services to disabled passengers.
Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said: “Manchester Airport is a major gateway to both the region and the country and I would hope that the mayor is suitably embarrassed and stirred into action that at present we are officially the worst airport in the country for disabled access.
“12 months have passed since the CAA first highlighted Manchester Airport’s failings in relation to disabled people and its failure to improve since then shows a total disregard for disabled people.”
He said anecdotal evidence suggested that “whilst policies might be in place to assist disabled people, practices and procedures are still sadly lacking”.
He said the coalition had called for action to improve the airport’s performance in its manifesto for last year’s mayoral election, which Burnham won.
Hilton warned last year that many staff at Manchester Airport “treat disabled people little better than cattle, moving people without telling them what was happening or where they were going”.
A spokeswoman for Manchester City Council refused to say what action the local authority would take to ensure the airport’s provision of assistance improved, or whether it was embarrassed about the airport’s performance.
But she said in a statement: “It’s important to us that our local airport is accessible to everyone, and it’s clearly also important for the many thousands of international travellers who pass through the airport every day.
“As major shareholder in MAG, we’re pleased the CAA report recognises a number of positive changes made by the airport over the last year to improve services for people with disabilities.
“We’re confident that the airport’s £1 billion long term transformation programme – Manchester Airport Transformation Programme – will deliver the further changes needed to significantly improve services for all passengers.”
A spokesman for Burnham said that it was important to note that MAG “does not fall under the purview of the mayor”.
He said: “While he is in frequent contact with the management of the airport and makes his views and opinions heard he has no direct control over its running.”
But Burnham said in a statement: “It is important that all public spaces, including transport hubs, across Greater Manchester are fully accessible.
“The CAA’s report is clear in identifying areas where Manchester Airport should improve its accessibility.
“I welcome the improvements already implemented and will be in regular dialogue with Manchester Airports Group to ensure further steps are taken.
“Across the city-region there is much to be done to improve accessibility on public transport though progress is being made; every Metrolink tram and tram stop has step-free access and the new Bolton transport interchange has been designed with disability access at its heart.
“But I will continue to challenge the transport operators to ensure that all facilities are fully accessible.”
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