Accessibility in the air: Come fly with me

Spreading your wings and travelling to far off lands has never been more accessible. Now, even more airports are banding together to promote inclusive travel so disabled adventurers can experience the wonders of air travel.

Europe and beyond, the world we inhabit is filled with breath-taking scenery, a plethora of cultures and lifestyles, wilderness and more: it’s a challenge to see every corner of the world.

With the first transatlantic commercial flight taking off on 28 June 1939 from New York to Marseilles, France, the skies opened up the potential for adventure.

Fast forward 80 years, air travel has never been more accessible for disabled travellers.

ACCESS

“On a monthly basis we will contact a local group, for example a local autism group or dementia group, and reach out for a meeting to tell them what we do and to find out feedback from their users about what they find good and bad about the service so we can go away and improve our services,” enthuses Paul Scott, terminal compliance manager at Glasgow Airport.

Speaking directly with disabled customers and the charities thatsupport them is just one way that airports have improved access fortravellers.

Granted, at times air travel has received some bad press, it is a dedication from all parties to improve experiences that fuels conversations on inclusion.

More airports are now working together with partners across the industry, including airlines and ground handlers to increase accessibility, explains Karen Dee, chief executive for the Airport Operations Association (AOA).

She adds: “We need to work closely with airlines because the principal point of contact for a disabled traveller is the airline they’re travelling with: they will inform airports at both start and end of the journey of the assistance needed by a particular passenger.

“From that point on, an airport can expect the passenger’s arrival and make arrangements accordingly.”

Listening to customers and disability organisations is important to the team at Glasgow Airport. Paul continues: “We did a hearing audit 18 months ago and the feedback was overall positive, but we were told we didn’t have enough coverage in certain areas for hearingloops.

“We then spent £20,000 buying more induction loops in areas that passengers would be speaking with a member of staff. We had missed this because we hadn’t gone out to ask the question.”

Alongside access, improving staff awareness, knowledge, and understanding on supporting disabled travellers is imperative.

PREPARATION

Education is the first step to improve services across the board. At Glasgow Airport training staff is an important aspect of continued professional development and increased customer care.

Paul explains: “With over 200 security staff, they are our employees that interact with customers the most.

“Every year they must go through mandatory refresher training and part of this includes dealing with disability. It is important to know how to search someone in a wheelchair or someone who has an assistance animal.”

Ensuring the best possible level of training, the team at Glasgow Airport discuss training methods with charities supporting people with dementia, autism, wheelchair users, visual impairments, hidden disabilities and beyond.

Determined to ensure training is beneficial for all travellers, each organisation updates Glasgow Airport’s training packages. Partnering training with reasonable adjustments improves the excitement and thrill of jetting off on holiday.

ADJUSTMENTS

Airports in the UK and beyond have been listening to the experiences ofdisabled travellers. For many, simple adjustments have proven to be immensely successful.

People on the autism spectrum may find airports challenging due
to sensory overloading. It is for this reason that Glasgow Airport introduced an effective resolution for autistic travellers and their families.

“People told us that the first-time travelling was always the hardest. That’s where we got the idea to do pre-visits,” says Paul.

“We did a couple of them and they were such a success we made them a common service. We speak to families to let them know that people can come in as a family unit at a quieter period and we go through the whole airport journey with them: from security to going onto the aircraft.

“Also, we ask families to phone us direct so the experience is tailored. We learn if the child is OK with noise, verbal, do they need hearing defenders? Are bright lights a trigger? Smells too, if they’re not happy going through the perfume shop we can take them on a different route which avoids them.

“We speak to the airline and check them in away from the check-in desks; if the family want it, we can also take them through a dedicated security line.”

The airport has also introduced a changing places toilet, inclusive signage for people with hidden disabilities, a coloured lanyard system for passengers to discreetly show staff they require extra support, and much more: inclusive travel is no longer a pipe dream.

Karen adds: “More and more disabled people are travelling by air – numbers of passengers travelling with assistance have grown at double the rate of overall passenger growth. This is really good to see: it shows that people feel confident that the aviation industry can help them get to their destination. Airports want to help even more people travel with confidence.”

Glasgow Airport  0141 842 7700 GLA.PRM@ocs.co.uk

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