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 "completely unacceptable" figures that show 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.

On one occasion, a passenger missed a deportation flight from London Gatwick after the service provider was not notified of the support requirements.

At Newcastle International Airport, 15 flights were missed, with one passenger left behind because the aircraft was unable to transport their wheelchair battery and another stranded because their boarding card could not be scanned.

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 and contribute to growing concerns around airport accessibility.

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.

“The fact hundreds of others have missed their flights comes as no surprise for anyone who’s been there.

“It’s 2019 and this is ridiculous, it should not be allowed to happen – I’m not one to moan but I’m not having it, if I don’t speak out, they’ll carry on getting away with it.”

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.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald has joined the Department for Transport in calling for improvements in accessibility standards at airports.

He said: “We need to be ensuring that all passengers are able to travel safely.

“It is simply not acceptable that more than 700 people were unable to board their flights and it is essential that our country’s airports meet their legal duties to provide special assistance to those who need it.

“Improved communication and adequate staffing are needed if we are to see these numbers reduce. While this may only be a relatively small number of missed flights in the overall figures, it is still too high and will have obviously been distressing for all those people who missed their scheduled flights.”

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.”

He said that the Government’s on-going Aviation 2050 consultation seeks to improve “the flying experience for passengers with disabilities”.

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.”