John Holland-Kaye accused passengers of adding to the recent travel chaos by requesting special assistance in order to “try and get fast-tracked”.
In an interview with LBC on Tuesday morning, the airport chief claimed that “travel hack” videos on the social media platform TikTok had sparked a trend for able-bodied travellers claiming they need wheelchair assistance at the airport.
LBC host Nick Ferrari said: “Last week 20 wheelchair passengers waited in their allocated area for someone to take them through immigration.
“There was no air conditioning; these people sitting there knowing it was an absolute disgrace.
“Why can’t we get people, it would appear, at Terminal 3, to look after those with mobility issues?”
Mr Holland-Kaye replied: “Well, we do have as many people now working in our ‘passengers requiring support’ team as we had before the pandemic.
“We’ve seen demand has gone up significantly.
“Some of this is because people are using the wheelchair support to try to get fast-tracked through the airport; that is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing. We need to protect that for the people who most need help.”
Mr Ferrari asked if Mr Holland-Kaye was saying people were “flagrantly abusing the rules and pretending they need that when they don’t?”
“Absolutely, and if you go on TikTok you’ll see that is one of the travel hacks that people are recommending,” he added, reiterating: “Please don’t do that, we need to protect the service for people who need it most.”
Mr Holland-Kaye also accused disabled passengers and those requiring special assistance of requesting it too late, saying: “About half of people who ask for it only ask once they’re on the plane.”
He urged passengers to “let [Heathrow] know well in advance so that we are able to meet your needs”.
In June one TikTok user angered social media users by pretending to need a wheelchair in order to skip long airport queues.
Student Wolf Jenkins filmed himself jumping queues at Ibiza airport before a flight home to Bristol, admitting he had pretended to have an injured ankle and been given a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, many travellers with disabilities have reported disheartening delays when arriving or travelling through the UK’s airports.
Last month one passenger spoke out about feeling “traumatised and humiliated” after special assistance was slow or non-existent at two separate UK airports, either side of her flight.
Meanwhile, this week passenger David Judd criticised Manchester Airport for their slow special assistance service, which he said made him feel “as insignificant as a person can feel”.
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