Heathrow Enhances Service for Passengers with Hidden and Visible Disabilities

Dec. 18, 2017

Heathrow on Dec. 18, announced a multi-million pound package of investments and tools to improve the travel experience of passengers with disabilities and mobility restrictions at the airport.  

The number of passengers requesting special assistance at Heathrow is rising at approximately 8 percent annually, with over 1 million requests in 2017 alone – more than any other European airport. Following a report by the Civil Aviation Authority this year, Heathrow is taking proactive steps to transform its service for these passengers, backed by an investment of £23 million in a revamped, upgraded contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ. 

Heathrow announced Dec. 18, the introduction of a distinctive lanyard that will allow passengers that need tailored help and support to discreetly identify themselves to Heathrow staff.  This lanyard is part of an established service initiated at Gatwick and rolled out in other UK airports, and is supported by leading UK charities including the Alzheimer’s Society, the National Autistic Society and Action on Hearing Loss.  Special assistance staff, security officers and passenger ambassadors at Heathrow have been trained to identify the lanyard so they can provide additional assistance, or allow passengers wearing it more time or space as they travel independently through the airport.

Also on Dec. 18, Heathrow announced further changes it has made following passenger feedback, including new signage across the airport which displays the United Nations new symbol of accessibility. Starting this month in Terminal 3, special assistance signage will be a distinctive blue, and easier for passengers to identify as they make their way around the airport.   The airport also promoted a new on demand app that is being used by passenger ambassadors and special assistance providers across Heathrow to access trained British Sign Language translators on demand to assist deaf passengers travelling through.

The suite of new initiatives follows feedback by passengers and guidance from the airport’s disability awareness group. Chaired by disability rights advocate Roberto Castiglioni, the Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group has been set up to help Heathrow deliver its vision to become industry leading in regards to accessibility and inclusion. The objective of the HAAG is to provide independent advice and constructive and considered challenges and bring a consumer perspective into Heathrow’s decision-making and planning processes. The airport hosted this group, and invited local students from Nescot college, themselves living with disabling conditions, to the airport to learn about the improvements the airport has made.

Jonathan Coen, Director of Customer Relations and Service at Heathrow said, “Heathrow’s vision is to make every journey better, for every single passenger. We need to do more when it comes to our Special Assistance service and we hope the investments and changes we are announcing today will go a long way in helping our passengers feel more welcome and at ease when travelling through our airport. We will keep working with our partners to deliver a better experience and the high standards of service our passengers deserve.”

Roberto Castiglioni,  Chair of Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group said, “This is a great day for passengers at Heathrow and we were proud to have been a part of ensuring the airport takes concrete steps towards being a more accessible and friendly space for people living with disabling conditions.  We have more work to do yet and we look forward to working with Heathrow to keep on improving the journeys of all.”

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said, “I am delighted to see for myself how Heathrow has improved the experience for those with disabilities or restricted mobility at their airport and to hear that they are constantly striving to do more.

“It is important to acknowledge not all disabilities are visible, that’s why the Government’s draft Accessibility Action Plan contains proposals to improve access for people with conditions like dementia and autism. Our final plan, which will be published next year, will consider responses to our action plan consultation as well as other ideas, such as what I have seen at Heathrow today.”

Antony Marke, Group Managing Director of OmniServ, said, “OmniServ is delighted to have the opportunity to continue working with Heathrow. The emphasis here should be on the word ‘passengers’ rather than on the PRM label. All passengers deserve to be treated with respect as they journey through the airport, no matter their personal status. We have been working closely with leading disability rights groups to ensure our training is up-to-date with current thinking