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Our Experience at Heathrow Airport During Holiday Travel

We just returned from visiting family abroad for the holidays and I’ve been waiting to bring attention to the lack of accessible toilets that we encountered at Heathrow Airport in terminal 2.

Due to scheduling, I took my two kids on the outbound trip from #heathrowairport by myself. This would be a first and I was a bit nervous. We prepped for the travel, packed lots of comfort items in our carry-ons and had ticked the ‘disabled’ box for our oldest on his itinerary in order to have access to airport support.

Check in was smooth and essentially empty. It was a very quiet morning. We were offered a wheelchair and staff to get through security.

I consulted with my kiddo and we naively said ‘no thanks’. The staff gestured to the security area which looked empty and they said it would only take about 5–10 minutes to get through.

We all know that there are airport staff shortages and therefore less people available to provide support to disabled customers. We don’t necessarily need the wheelchair for mobility and it looked like the security step would be a breeze. We therefore said ‘no thanks’ to the wheelchair thinking that perhaps it will then be available to someone who does need it.

Well, that area that the staff gestured to was not security. And by that time we entered into what was the giant mass of people pushing to get into security queues, it was too late. It was literally a room of people all squashed in and trying to push past each other to get to the security queues.

The sensory overwhelm came on quick for my oldest. It was stifling hot very quickly. Everyone was knocking into everyone. And it smelled, strong.

I attempted to talk with the couple staff in sight but they just shrugged their shoulders and turned their backs.

So noise canceling headphones on, shirts over noses and I led my two as best as I could through the mess.

After we finally made it through security, my oldest told me that he needed the toilet and absolutely needed an accessible toilet.

I knew he was overwhelmed and he knows that an accessible toilet will be private and give a moment to take care of himself in a semblance of peace.

So off we went for the accessible toilet.

A black and white image of a bathroom plaque hung on a tiled wall. The plaque is a square with rounded edges, image of a wheelchair and text reads ‘Accessbile Restroom’

We got to the first accessible toilet and stopped in our tracks a few feet from the door. There was an overwhelming wall of a cinnamon smelling spray coming from the toilet. My youngest covered his eyes while yelling ‘It burns! I can’t go in!’ and my oldest started coughing.

As I was thinking of how to navigate this, I walked into the toilet to see if the smell was somehow less potent inside. I also then realized that the door to the accessible toilet does not allow you to lock the door. When I engaged the locking mechanism, the door is too far from the door frame and therefore, you cannot give yourself privacy or security.

Omg.

So off we went to find the next accessible toilet.

At this point, my oldests’ anxiety was rising and he needed to find an accessible toilet. This was now also a fixation and he was barely communicating. I was running behind trying to keep up.

We went through that terminal and found the same situation over and over again. Six times. SIX!

There was not one accessible toilet that properly locked and without that offensive cinnamon spray.

At this point, we were sweating and I feared my oldest was going to meltdown. He still needed the toilet but needed the reduced sensory input that an accessible toilet would have provided.

I went to two different lounges and begged. We were made to feel a bother and no one actually talked to me while they waved me off.

Eventually I had to convince my oldest to use one of the other restrooms and I promised to keep out as many people as I could and not let anyone use the hand-dryer. It was so stressful. I basically stood at the entrance of one of the toilets and was now just a sweaty mess not letting people in until he was done.

I alerted many airport staff of the accessible toilet issue and all said ‘yeah’ or ‘It’s been like that for awhile’.

Accessibility is not optional.

We make choices based on the accessibility that we are told is available.

We should have been able to count on being able to use one of the accessible toilets. We were ‘lucky’ that my kid could in some ways physically use one of the other restrooms. But what about all of the other people who can’t?

Disabled people deserve privacy and safety when using the toilet.

Disabled people deserve to travel too.

EDIT:

Email back from Customer Service: Dear Laura,

Thank you for your patience whilst we looked into your case, and we would like to sincerely apologise again for you and your families experience at Terminal 2.

We want you to know that we take your feedback seriously so we can help to improve for all of our passengers, and we have had a response from our team regarding your experience.

Heathrow use fragrance in a large number of general toilets across the airport s it usually enhances customer experience, however we sincerely apologise that on this occasion that you did not feel this fragrance positively impacted your travel. For Christmas, Heathrow did swap to a more festive cinnamon fragrance which was received positively by many other passengers. We are sorry to hear that this change was not suitable for you and your family.

Regarding the lounges, please can you confirm which facility you were using as some of these are managed by the airlines so we would want to assure this feedback is being received by the correct teams.

The locks on the cubicles are maintained on a regular basis with checks several times an hour. All the locks are working in Terminal 2. but we apologise that on this occasion they were not up to the standard we expect as we can experience faults from time to time.

We would like to thank you for taking the time to raise this with us, as it can help us to improve for all our passengers. We hope the next time you choose to travel with us, you have an improved experience.

If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact us and we can assist you further.

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