The Rt Hon. Lord David Blunkett
I am …
A Parliamentarian. As the relevant Cabinet member from 1997, I was responsible for establishing the Disability Rights Commission and improvements to the Disability Discrimination Act, and I know how important a barrier-free society is to disabled people.
Disability Rights have been enshrined in legislation for over 20 years. We know what needs to be done to make customer service inclusive, and yet, as this report highlights, disabled people still experience poor customer service with their needs not being fully met at our airports.
Air travel is complex and a balance is needed between safety and access, but more can be done to ensure that accurate passenger information is shared so that where disabled passengers are able to travel, either independently or accompanied, that experience is efficient, seamless and respectful.
This report demonstrates that disabled people do not enjoy travel as much as they should. Fear and anxiety about their access needs overshadows their journey, especially as navigation of airports can be very difficult. Customer service failings add a great deal of stress to travel arrangements. There is also a big issue around the lack of respect for equipment and Electric Mobility Aids. All of these issues could be addressed with good training and with good systems and processes for passing on passenger details between all of the relevant parties.
That is why last year, working with the CAA, the European Commission and others, I helped launch a Charter, which seeks to join up the various component parts of making the process a smooth and acceptable experience for those with special requirements. Putting together the procedures in place by individual airlines, with the responsibility of airports and ground handling along with service providers, is the challenge for the years ahead. This will then make regulation 1107 a real facilitator for equality and positive change.
I am chair of the easyJet Special Assistance Advisory Group (ESAAG), and I know that there can be a mismatch of information between all of the different parties who support passengers. I am aware that systems and processes can create barriers. I know that many disabled people have faced embarrassment when travelling through airports. Confusion about individual-specific travel needs can become misinterpreted. I have, for example as a blind person, experienced being offered a wheelchair at the airport. Dignity and access that many simply take for granted can be denied to disabled people.
This report is challenging the whole airline industry to put people, not process, at the heart of its thinking. The findings suggest that the industry as a whole needs to convene a debate on passenger access to airports to ensure that all of the connected parties know what they should be doing and are delivering a great passenger experience. It is calling for a situation where everyone that a disabled passenger connects with at the airport should be well trained and able to share information.