Disabled BBC correspondent abandoned on Iberia plane after landing at Gatwick

A disabled BBC journalist has slammed airline Iberia and UK airports after saying he was left “stuck on the plane at Gatwick” following a flight home.

Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, posted a photo of an abandoned plane cabin to Twitter, saying: “FFS not again! Just back from exhausting week covering NATO summit in Madrid and quelle surprise, I’m still stuck on the plane at Gatwick.

“Iberia crew are gone and a new crew has come on board.

“Just WHY are UK airports so consistently crap at getting disabled people off plans?”

In a follow-up message, Mr Gardner clarified that his producer had stayed with him on the aircraft “but the crew cleared off”.

In a later post, Mr Gardner said that he had waited for 20 minutes – but added that ground handlers had been unaware he was waiting to be assisted.

“Off the plane now – only a 20 minute delay which is mild – but ground handlers said ‘nobody told us there was a disabled passenger onboard’. Airline, Iberia, insist they did. All in all, so tedious and boring!” wrote Mr Gardner.

When a follower asked about comparative experiences at other airports in different countries, an exasperated Mr Gardner replied: “It never happens abroad, only in UK”.

Fellow wheelchair user Jan Crispin replied: “True, that’s my experience too.”

Mr Gardner is a seasoned Middle East correspondent and author of books including Crisis, Ultimatum, Blood & Sand and farhorizons. In 2004 he was shot six times by al-Qaeda operatives while on assignment in Saudi Arabia, and paralyzed, while his cameraman was killed in the attack.

He told the BBC in a 2020 article that he can stand using callipers and a frame, but it is usually more efficient to use a wheelchair.

In May 2022, Mr Gardner tweeted about being stuck on a plane having landed at Heathrow.

“It’s happened again. Stuck on an empty plane at Heathrow airport long after everyone else is off – ‘no staff to get my wheelchair off the plane’. I am SO disappointed with @HeathrowAirport as disabled passengers are once again apparently the lowest priority,” he wrote at the time.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, passengers with a disability or reduced mobility “are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when traveling by air”.

“This means airports and airlines must provide help and assistance, which is free of charge, and helps ensure you have a less stressful journey.”

Wheelchair users must usually notify their airline 48 hours before the flight that they require special assistance, which is often provided by dedicated staff from the airport’s own assistance team.

Mr Gardner did not say whether he had pre-booked special assistance at Gatwick in this case.

Gatwick’s Special Assistance (SA) policy says the airport aims to have all pre-booked SA customers arriving on flights into the airport met within 20 minutes. However, its online targets state that it aims to have assistance staff ready at the gate five minutes after arrival in 80 per cent of cases.

A Gatwick spokesperson said: “We apologize for the delay Mr Gardner experienced on this occasion. We have been working closely with our assistance provider, Wilson James, to establish the reasons for this.

“At this stage, it appears there was no special assistance booking from the airline for Mr Gardner. However, as soon as we were made aware, the team responded and Mr Gardner received assistance within 20 minutes.

“We strive to provide the best possible service to all passengers so will continue to look into this with Wilson James and the airline concerned. We apologize again for any delay Mr Gardner experienced returning from the NATO summit in Madrid.”

The Independent has approached Iberia for comment.

Last week wheelchair user Suzanne Croft spoke out about feeling “traumatized and humiliated” after special assistance was slow or non-existent at two separate UK airports, with her husband and airline staff having to “carry her off” her flight at Heathrow.

Ms Croft, who has muscular dystrophy, was flying from Newcastle International to London Heathrow on 9 June when the problems with getting airport assistance occurred.

On arrival, her husband and airline staff “had to place me in a folding aisle chair that had no seat belt. My husband held my legs in while a kind crew member of the next flight pushed me to the arrival lounge,” she told reporters.

“It’s not the waiting, I’m used to that. It’s the indignity and humiliation,” she added.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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