Heathrow disgraced over treatment of disabled journalist
Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland Kaye loves to brag about his airport's customer service but his PR department went into a spin last week when a prominent journalist, who relies on a wheelchair to get around, was left stranded on an aircraft for over an hour and a half without the means to get himself to the Terminal.
We would probably never have heard about this incident if it had not happened to BBC journalist Frank Gardner, who Tweeted throughout the interminable delay to get his wheelchair back. As a result, other similar stories then came to light.
This certainly appears to be a case of "Better not Bigger", Heathrow was unable to comprehend that a passenger who needs a wheelchair to get around, requires that wheelchair to get off the plane. So it should not be sent to another part of the airport to be collected in the baggage reclaim area. Airport staff put the problem down to incorrect labelling of the wheelchair - perhaps someone thought it was a fashion accessory not an essential aid to mobility.
According to Frank Gardner's Tweets, he had experienced similar bad service before and a comment from the Heathrow team to DM (direct message, so that the conversation isn't public) led to further derision from the public. Surely things couldn't get worse for the airport that is trying to convince politicians that it should be allowed to expand rather than other airports?
Actually things did get worse. That Heathrow PR team, told the media: "We apologise unreservedly if the service Mr Gardner received today fell short of the experience we aim to provide to our passengers. We are working with the responsible airline to investigate what went wrong in tis case." The word "if" prompted people to wonder if the airport had grasped the fact that anyone using an aircraft would find the service lacking if they were left on an aircraft, unable to move, for over 90 minutes when everyone else had been able to leave. Mr Gardner had been forced to remain in his seat because someone had "lost" his wheelchair after apparently incorrectly labelling it.
Mr Holland-Kaye then had to earn is salary by admitting that the initial response was mistake and organising a hasty meeting with Mr Gardner for the Sunday, notebook in hand, to hear a list of complaints. In Heathrow terms, this was similar to a "Listening event", where someone at Heathrow gives people with a gripe about the airport the chance to let off steam. The question remains, will the airport take action on the issues raised?
Heathrow has been in business for over 70 years and wants to be seen as better than other airports yet it still cannot get the fundamentals right. Giving Heathrow an extra runway gives it an advantage over other UK airports and it is an advantage it does not deserve.