The airline industry has made significant strides forward in improving the service provided to disabled passengers. There is no doubt that many parties are aware of the issues and there are now specific working groups and new customers’ charters that are working to improve access.

However, the shear complexity of how the service is delivered through multiple contracted parties adds to the problems experienced by customers. As one of the respondents remarked ‘this labyrinth of contracts blurs transparency, making it had to get a good end-to-end customer service’. This contract delegation allows for failures in communication.

The way the system has been designed almost builds in the access barriers from the beginning through the use of restrictive passenger codes to define a person’s access needs.

Technology is not used to assist passenger communication, which could help reassure customers that they are being dealt with.

No one person at the airport oversees the end-to-end journey. There appears to be little discussion between all of the relevant parties, especially the ground baggage handling teams. This opens up the possibility for ‘passing the buck’. This in turn adds to delays for customers who are trying to resolve customer complaints.

The whole service seems to focus on the needs of wheelchair users–this is not helped by the fact that even the regulations refer to people as PRMs. The conclusion is that the language and the codes restrict people’s mindsets as to what constitutes a disabled person. The system is old fashioned and not fit for purpose.

What disabled customers need is an efficient way of sharing access information that can be used in a meaningful way across the airport from check-in to boarding. There needs to be a global consistency in the application of processes. There needs to be much more transparency about who is actually responsible for what service to enable customers to resolve complaints quickly.

The overall conclusion is that most providers want to deliver a good service and that in the main this is achieved. However, when customer service goes wrong it tends to do so spectacularly with cases reported of £30,000 electric wheelchairs being damaged beyond repair, disabled people being abandoned and missing flights and people being embarrassed and humiliated as their dignity is compromised. All of these issues can be tackled if the industry works together to improve procedures, standardize access and enforce disability awareness training. The challenge is to change a currently fragmented and undervalued service by the airline industry into a properly managed customer experience that has a clear business case underpinning its delivery.

Appendix 1

Codes used to identify disabled passengers


Passenger who can walk up and down stairs and move about in an aircraft cabin, but who requires a wheelchair or other means of support for movements between the aircraft and the terminal, in the terminal and between arrival and departure points on the city side of the terminal.


Passenger who cannot walk up or down stairs, but who can move about in an aircraft cabin and requires a wheelchair to move between the aircraft and the terminal, in the terminal and between arrival and departure points on the city side of the terminal.


This category covers a wide range of passengers. It includes those who are completely immobile, who can move about only with the help of a wheelchair or any other means and who require assistance at all times from arrival at the airport to seating in the aircraft or, if necessary, in a special seat adapted to their specific needs, the process being reversed at arrival. This category also includes passengers with a disability only affecting the lower limbs who require assistance to embark and disembark and to move inside the aircraft cabin but who are otherwise self-sufficient and can move about independently in their own wheelchair at the airport. Specifying the level of autonomy at the time of booking will avoid the provision of inappropriate assistance.


Blind or visually impaired passenger.


Passenger who is deaf or hard of hearing or a passenger who is deaf without speech.


Deaf and blind passenger, who can move about only with the help of an accompanying person.


Disabled passenger with intellectual or developmental disability needing assistance. This covers passengers with disabilities such as learning difficulties, dementia, Alzheimer’s or Down’s syndrome who travel alone and will need ground assistance.

The Regulation uses the term ‘PRM’ to include ‘disabled persons’ and ‘persons with reduced mobility’: namely any person whose mobility is reduced due to physical disability (sensory or locomotory, permanent or temporary), intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability or age.

About OCS

Here at OCS Group we are very proud of our long history–the company is now in its fifth generation of family ownership. The business was started in 1900 by Frederick William Goodliffe. Initially, the company comprised one part-time man equipped with a ladder, a pail and a pushcart. From such modest beginnings, OCS has grown into an international group providing Integrated Facilities Services in over 50 countries.

OCS provide global facilities management solutions for passengers, airports and airlines.

At OCS, we carry the flag for services around the world–looking after aircraft, airports and, above all, passengers, in many different ways and in hundreds of locations every day. OCS combines global expertise with specialist knowledge and world-class resources to deliver supply chain solutions across the full spectrum of airside and landside support services.

Our depth of understanding gained from over 50 years’ experience in the aviation sector, and our efficient utilisation of staff and assets through the use of leading-edge technology, has enabled us to develop into a global leader in the design, management and delivery of a complete aviation facilities management solution. It’s our job to be able to ensure that disabled passengers can transit through airports safely, whilst enjoying their travel experience.

This report was independently researched and written by Really Useful Solutions.

About the author Kay Allen OBE

I am …

A campaigner for inclusive rights. In 1995 I was a Commissioner on what was then the Disability Rights Commission.

The original Bill that became the 1995 Act did not contain any provisions for increased access to transport for disabled people.

Since that time the regulations have improved and we do now have a regulation for accessible air travel. I am delighted to have been asked to complete this research, as it is a subject about which I am passionate.