All passengers flying after the COVID lockdown have identified staffing issues at all levels This slows down the process, but no passengers are more affected than those who need help to reach their destination. Flying with disparate abilities is a dehumanizing, painful, and sometimes life-threatening experience.
Just in time for the holiday travel season CNN I’ve compiled a state of flying report for Americans who need special assistance at the airport, and boy is that grim!:
About a fifth of the population is affected by disabilities and there are many passengers who use so-called ‘special assistance’ when moving around airports.
This could be a visually impaired person who needs to be guided to the gate, a person with sensory problems who needs help at critical points like security or boarding, or a passenger with a bad knee walking to the gate but not taking steps can.
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), approximately 27 million passengers with disabilities flew through US airports in 2019.
And with a system already under stress, the results can be devastating.
In June, a passenger who had booked special assistance died at London’s Gatwick Airport when he decided to get into the terminal unassisted instead of waiting for help. An employee had arrived at the gate to take three passengers to a buggy and had already taken the first person when the man decided to walk. The airport has launched an investigation into the incident.
Those struggling with the lack of services say the lack of manpower, lack of customization to each individual passenger and lack of training are the main reasons the already poor treatment has worsened.
“It has definitely gotten worse since the pandemic,” says Roberto Castiglioni, director of Restricted Mobility Rightswhich works for disabled travelers.
“Staff shortages don’t just affect too few [assistance-dedicated] agent,” he says. “Where there are bottlenecks with security personnel at airports, very long queues have to be passed through.”
Anyone who is temporarily unable to stand—whether elderly, pregnant, or ill—must call for help, adding to the strain on an understaffed system.
For Carrie-Ann Lightley – who has wanted to fly to Australia from her native UK for eight years but feels “intimidated” – breaking her chair isn’t the only thing she has to worry about.
“Ultimately, the problem is the process and the training [assistance staff] are not trained to take care of people, but to carry luggage,” she says.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing the same service to others. I pay the same price as everyone else, but I can’t even go to the toilet by myself. Not a week goes by without a headline about roadside assistance, but we’re not considered important enough as a customer group.”
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As soon as the plane lands the problems never end. Delayed flights mean passengers who need assistance can be the last to board, which would be possible Cut them from potentially life-saving carry-on luggage. Airplanes are not required to have ADA-compliant bathrooms. The Department of Transportation proposed a possible rule that would require new aircrafto Provide accessible bathrooms… In 20 years.
Getting off the plane couldn’t be easier. Apparently this year there’s a story about a person with a disability at least once a week left on an airplane for hours or stranded at airports after their wheelchair or critical accessibility gear we are lost or severely damaged.
The whole thing is heartbreaking. We all need to demand more from airlines. Read CNN‘s full report here.