HUNDREDS of disabled travellers were left stranded at airports across the UK due to errors and failures with assistance services, a Newsquest investigation can reveal.

While the vast majority of those who use airport assistance services are boarded successfully, the Government has branded figures 'completely unacceptable' after it was revealed more than 700 people with disabilities or reduced mobility missed their flights between 2015 and 2018.

Staff shortages, short connection times, gate changes and system errors were blamed for passengers being forgotten, stranded at assistance points and left at the wrong gate despite booking ‘special assistance’ services for their journey through the airport.

At Manchester Airport, 39 people missed their flights with 27 of those passengers 'presumed not at fault' while at Liverpool John Lennon Airport eight passengers missed their flight through no fault of their own.

The reasons for passengers missing flights

At Liverpool there were three instances of passengers who had requested assistance being 'forgotten' in the waiting area with a lack of staff blamed while another passenger was left at the incorrect gate.

In Manchester, two passengers were also directed to the wrong flights while others were held up by security checks or had a problem getting from the station to Terminal One.

Late passengers and those who insisted on duty-free shopping also contributed to Civil Aviation Authority figures released under the Freedom of Information Act and analysed by Newsquest’s Data Investigations Unit.

Airports and airlines are legally obliged to provide free help and assistance to travellers with disabilities or reduced mobility, with most airports contracting companies to provide the service.

EU rules stipulate that so-called ‘special assistance’ services should be available from the moment passengers arrive at the airport to when they leave their destination airport.

Millions of assistance requests are handled by airports every year, with missed flights representing a small fraction of otherwise successful journeys.

However, for the minority who miss their flights due to problems with the service, the repercussions can be significant.

"If I don't speak out they will carry on getting away with it"

Team GB Paralympian Matt Byrne missed his Ryanair flight between Dublin and Birmingham earlier in June, despite booking assistance, because – it is claimed - the pilot would not wait for him to be brought to the plane.

He said he was on-board a wheelchair lift being taken to the aircraft when he was told the flight would be leaving without him.

Mr Byrne said: “It’s total discrimination, if I’d been able-bodied I would have got home on that flight but because I had to use a service to get on board, I couldn’t.

“I paid for a service I did not receive through no fault of my own.

“It’s 2019 and this is ridiculous. If I don’t speak out, they’ll carry on getting away with it.”

Bury Times: Matt ByrneMatt Byrne

"The impact can be massive"

Chris Wood, founder of the Flying Disabled campaign group, said that it was 'terrible' to see passengers being let down, adding: “The numbers may be small but these are people who have booked assistance and in many cases, not had the response they were entitled to.

“They can lose a day from their holiday or miss connections and the impact can be massive.

“We are human beings and need a better infrastructure – more training, better IT systems and more attention to detail would help.”

An annual survey from the Civil Aviation Authority for 2017/18 found that 57% of passengers with disabilities found flying and using airports difficult.

The same survey categorised London Gatwick, London Stansted and Birmingham as needing improvement in this respect, with Manchester being identified as poor.

What happens next?

A spokesman for the DfT said: “It is completely unacceptable for anyone to be prevented from travelling due to their disability, and we are committed to creating a transport network that is inclusive for everyone.”

The Civil Aviation Authority is expected to introduce new accessibility standards for airlines in the coming year and has, according to the DfT, already 'introduced more robust measures around waiting times and handover instances.'