An investigation by the BBC has found that some major airlines are charging disabled passengers double to fly from the UK, sparking anger and calls for the regulations to be toughened up. Currently, airlines are advised to offer discounts to disabled passengers who require an escort, but it is not mandatory.

The BBC found that over 30 airlines insist that passengers who require a ticket for a personal care assistant (PA) as well as themselves must purchase both tickets at full price. This disregards the guidance by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which recommends that airlines subsidise the cost for the PA’s ticket. 

The regulations are stipulated in EU law and maintained by the UK CAA post-Brexit. However, the reality is that only one carrier out of the 100 contacted by the BBC, Pakistan International Airlines, offers the discount for both international and domestic travel. 30 others confirmed that both passengers must pay full price.

The remaining airlines had no clear information available about the costs of travelling with a PA, or offered concessions for domestic flights only. Some carriers failed to respond to the request for information. This is despite the fact that most airlines advise disabled passengers to travel with a PA.

This situation has been described as discriminatory by disabled people and disability rights campaigners. Josh Wintersgill, a wheelchair user and entrepreneur, told the BBC: “With many not requiring companions, being forced to travel with someone feels very undermining and incurs additional costs. This is significantly unfair and borderline discriminatory.” 

He added: “There is a need for drastic international collaboration to improve outdated and ineffective regulations and guidelines”.

Additional costs are not the only issue that disabled passengers face when flying. Although airlines are obliged by law to provide assistance for passengers to board and disembark the aircraft free of charge, in recent years there has been a spate of high profile examples of passengers being left stranded on planes for hours at a time. 

The UK’s busiest airport, Heathrow in London, was recently rated as “poor” for its service to disabled passengers. This includes wheelchair provision, toilet access, and getting on and off board. 

The CAA’s joint interim chief executive Paul Smith said it was “important to acknowledge that there is still a way to go in providing a consistently good service for disabled and less mobile passengers across the industry, particularly for those with more complex needs, and throughout the busier summer months”.

He added: “With 18 airports consistently achieving good or very good ratings, and others demonstrating significant improvements, the industry is making strides in returning accessibility levels to those seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A spokesperson for Heathrow said that they were experiencing a high volume of demand for accessibility services, and were reviewing procedures and making new investments.

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