Findings

1. We asked respondents how aware they were of the Passenger Assistance Service.

The research found that frequent flyers were well informed of their rights and of the booking process for passenger assistance. Most passengers who fly frequently usually pre-book assistance and understand the importance of the 48-hours’ notice required.

However, passengers who indicated that they had flown only once in the year were less likely to pre-book assistance. Awareness of the pre-booking requirement for passengers appeared low for a high number of respondents who did not fly frequently.

Of the 534 total responses:

  • (117) 22% of respondents indicated that they were frequent flyers
  • (80) 68% of the above respondents who were frequent flyers said that they pre-booked assistance with 48-hours’ notice
  • (417) 78% respondents indicated that they were non-frequent flyers
  • (175) 42% of the above respondents who were non-frequent flyers said that they pre-booked assistance with 48-hours’ notice
I did not know I could book in advance and approached passenger assistance on the day of travel
I didn’t know how to book assistance in advance, I just assumed it was made available on demand

Conclusion:

Frequent flyers have much more awareness of the Passenger Assistance Service and are more likely to pre-book passenger assistance giving 48- hours’ notice. The challenge the industry has is that on average 30% of customers are NOT booking the service in advance. We know from data supplied by OCS that this number of passengers who turn up on the day of travel needing assistance puts a huge strain on resources and staffing and has cost implications for the way the service is contracted. The challenge is to provide more general information and educate customers who do not fly frequently.

Recommendation 1:

Raise awareness of the Passenger Assistance Service with the general public and disabled people.

Much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the Passenger Assistance Service using social media and general announcements using the local press. More could be done in partnership with charities to help advertise the service, but it is important to reach out to disabled people who are not affiliated to any particular disability charity. Consideration should be given to having information in health services such as doctors’ waiting rooms, Occupational Therapists and public information centres. More needs to be done to ask passengers at the point of booking if they need to use the Passenger Assistance Service.

2. We asked respondents if accessibility at airports was considered a barrier to flying.

The research indicated that people did worry about access and the general airport environment. People whose impairment was not related to a physical disability had higher feelings of anxiety and fear. Passengers with dementia and parents of children with autism indicated feeling anxious in crowds and in situations where they had to wait a long time. It can be challenging to process and retain information about departure times and gates. People can become disoriented and find navigation of the airport very difficult. Awareness that the Passenger Assistance Service can help with these kinds of impairments was very low. There was low awareness that personal EMAs could be used in the airport and taken to the aircraft doors. This was a perceived barrier in that some users of EMAs believed that they would have to use the manual chairs provided at the airport. The detailed customer journeys highlighted several access issues, including difficulty in using phones at the customer call points, check-in desks not at wheelchair height, signage unclear, lack of induction loops at check-in and security, lack of disability awareness at security.

Of the 534 total responses

  • (278) 52% of respondents indicated they had experienced access barriers at airports
  • (139) 26% of respondents indicated that they believed the airport could not accommodate their access needs
  • (459) 86% of respondents were NOT aware they could be met at the airport car park
Assistance was ordered but it did not arrive. This is very common despite confirming with the airline that assistance was booked. No longer trust that assistance will arrive
My wife took me to the check-in desk so this wasn't a problem but I didn't know that this was an option otherwise. Assistance for me started when I reached the check-in desk

Conclusion:

Many airports have done a great deal to improve access; however, the research noted some fundamental errors in accessibility. In addition, the detailed customer journeys conducted at airports highlighted inconsistency in access provision. The challenge is to improve access at all airports paying attention to detail and the whole customer journey.

Recommendation 2:

Standardised access features and reasonable adjustments provided at airports to be subject to regular review access audits.

More needs to be done to get access right for all impairment types, not just a focus on wheelchair users. For example airports need more signage indicating the provision of induction loops. Easy to use call points should be used. The airports should collaborate more and work to a consistent access standard with good clear signage.

3. We asked respondents who they believed to be responsible for providing the Passenger Assistance Service.

The majority of respondents appear to believe that the airline is responsible for the assistance that customers are given at the airport. The majority of respondents made the request for passenger assistance through the airline when booking their flight, which seems to trigger a belief that it is the airline that is providing the service. When making a complaint, customers believe that they should complain directly to the airline with which they travelled. This means that airlines receive complaints from passengers about poor service at an airport. Although the airlines are not responsible, there is residual reputational damage to the airline because in the passenger’s mind, the airline is at fault.

  • (374) 70% of respondents made their flight reservation direct with the airline.
  • Of which:

  • (258) 69% of respondents booked their flight using the airline’s website,
  • (71) 19% booked direct with the airline using the phone,
  • (45) 12% booked with a tour operator.
  • (278) 52% of people believed the airline was responsible for their access needs.
The three-party set up means they are all happy to pass the buck to someone else, be it the airline, OCS or BAA, more consistency and responsibility would help
I spend my money with their airline so they should make sure I can reach their plane

Conclusion: The regulations are very clear that it is the airports that must provide assistance to passengers when they arrive at the airport. Most airports work in partnership with companies like OCS actually to deliver this service. However, this is not really communicated to customers and the evidence indicates that there is much confusion around which company does what at the airport. The challenge is to provide more transparency for customers.

Recommendation 3:

Communicate clearly with passengers which company is providing the Passenger Assistance Service at each airport.

More needs to be done to give passengers information on who provides the Passenger Assistance Service at each airport. The industry could give consideration to a central information portal, which simply lists all of the airports with the service provider, with helpline numbers for each.

4. We asked respondents if they were satisfied with the Passenger Assistance waiting areas that are designated for use by disabled people.

There were mixed responses regarding the airport waiting areas for disabled people. Some people described them as the ‘crip pen’ and definitely not a place they wanted to be in. Other respondents described them as very friendly and that it was good to have an area to wait in that made them feel more secure. The passenger waiting areas helped provide a quiet space and helped reduce feelings of anxiety.

Of the 534 total responses

  • (69) 13% of respondents reported that the facilities were EXCELLENT
  • (112) 21% of respondents reported that the facilities were GOOD
  • (251) 47% of respondents reported that the facilities were ACCEPTABLE
  • (85) 16% of respondents reported that the facilities were POOR
  • (17) 3% of respondents reported that the facilities were EXTREMELY POOR
I try very hard not to sit in the passenger assistance waiting area  generally it feels like I am being excluded from the rest of the airport–I understand why they have them, and some people may actually like to be sitting there. I would prefer to arrange a time to meet at the gate
It would've been nice to use the services, i.e. toilet facilities, food facilities and shopping facilities, however that is a Rolls-Royce service I think it would be some time before we get that. Fantastic that this is being addressed at last by someone’ ‘Being blind, the only problem I had was that I wasn't always aware of assistance being nearby to ask any questions or go anywhere when waiting for flights
I get anxious that I will get lost in the airport so I like to wait in the proper area so I know the assistant can find me to help me so I won’t miss my flight

Conclusion:

The provision of a designated waiting area is very helpful to some disabled people, however some respondents did report feeling ‘corralled’ and ‘left to wait’. The challenge is to make these spaces desirable, revenue earning and informative.

Recommendation 4:

Improve the passenger assistance waiting areas.

Better use could be made of these spaces, especially in partnership with airport retailers. More could be done to provide information in these areas, offer retail services, refreshments and more advice and help. These areas should be staffed at all times with a person who was knowledgeable and the main point of contact for the Passenger Assistance Service. An example would be, knowledge on how to manage an assistance dog. There needs to be a centre point in each Passenger Assistance waiting area that can help with dog toileting and care.

5. We asked respondents to rate their satisfaction with the quality of assistance provided to help transit through the airport.

The majority of respondents stated that the quality of assistance provided was acceptable, good or excellent. A much smaller number of respondents reported problems and serious issues. The majority of respondents who thought the service was poor or extremely poor, reported very serious problems with the handling of EMAs. The main reason for complaint focused on EMAs not being returned to the aircraft or that they had been damaged in flight.

Of the 534 responses

  • (21) 4% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was EXCELLENT
  • (176) 33% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was GOOD
  • (251) 47% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was ACCEPTABLE
  • (75) 14% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was POOR
  • (11) 2% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was EXTREMELY POOR
Waited ages for them to turn up and help so I wasn't boarded first. Wheelchair returned with no batteries so was stranded on bridge jetty
You just never know if your chair is going to be waiting for you, it’s terrifying that the most expensive thing you own, which is your freedom and independence, is just not treated with care and respect
I have only ever been met with warmth, friendliness and help. Flying with easyJet is easy–they take disabled passenger assistance extremely seriously

Conclusion:

There seems to be a very definite breakdown in communication around EMAs and the ground handling staff knowing that these must be delivered to the aircraft doors and not baggage reclaim. This is a failing in the system as a different third party service provider usually provides this element of the service. The challenge is to join the customer process together between the relevant parties. The key is good information.

Recommendation 5:

Review and improve airport processes for handling Electric Mobility Aids

EMAs and scooters are very expensive items that are often bespoke to the individual. The detailed customers’ journeys revealed an element of confusion, lack of knowledge and a real ‘hit & miss’ attitude to handling EMAs. The process should be made very clear and communicated to all service providers at the airport. This information should be given to all passengers who are travelling with an EMA to the aircraft doors.

6. We asked respondents to rate disability awareness, confidence and knowledge of staff who provided assistance

The majority of respondents thought staff providing the Passenger Assistance Service had good general disability awareness, confidence and knowledge. However, gaps in confidence and awareness were identified, especially in the management of assistance dogs, communicating with passengers who had a travel companion and in helping parents of children who had autism.

This would imply that staff need a much deeper knowledge of specific impairment types, not just a general awareness. During one of the detailed customer journeys with an assistance dog, at nearly every touch point including check-in, security and the waiting area, the dog was stroked and patted and interfered with. Not one member of staff that we asked had knowledge of where the dog toileting area was.

Of the 534 responses

  • (27) 5% of respondents reported that staff disability awareness was EXCELLENT
  • (192) 36% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was GOOD
  • (208) 39% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was ACCEPTABLE
  • (59) 11% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was POOR
  • (48) 9% of respondents reported that the assistance provided was EXTREMELY POOR
Staff need more training on helping disabled people and how to treat them. I was talked over or ignored and they spoke to my partner as if I wasn't there, also don't interact with my assistance dog
Airport staff frequently try to take control of my wheelchair with me in it, which is simply unsafe. However much training they have, they do not know my needs nor how my wheelchair works. I simply need them to direct me to where I need to go, not control me
If there was such a thing as excellent customer service at an airport–it would be in the form of staff who are trained to understand autism, a calm area that we could wait in and best of all, a process (not necessarily fast track) where we could access the plane without hours of trying to get my son to wait in queues–the worst thing is to be herded, which is usually how it feels

Conclusion:

There seems to good general disability awareness amongst staff providing the Passenger Assistance Service for manual wheelchair users. However, there seems to be a lack of detailed knowledge of impairments that are not related to a physical disability. The challenge is to get the right type of training to specific groups of staff who interact with customers and equipment.

Recommendation 6:

More detailed disability awareness training is needed of a much wider range of impairments with specific attention paid to managing assistance dogs

7. We asked respondents if they used airport amenities and shops whilst waiting to depart

Quite a large number of respondents said they did not go shopping or use the restaurants. Many passengers opted to remain in the designated waiting area. This related more to passengers who had visual loss, cognitive loss and learning difficulties. People with physical impairments who travelled with a companion appeared to be more independent within the airport, utilizing their time to go shopping.

Of the 534 responses

  • (246) 46% of respondents said they did not go shopping whilst waiting for departures
It’s just too complicated, the airport is busy and I find navigation with my sight loss too challenging
The shops are not very accessible, the aisles are not very wide for my scooter and staff are always so busy, queuing is a nightmare with my scooter as most shops have those barrier tapes that you have to wind through
Shopping! That would be a bonus … no one offers to take me for a coffee, sometimes I am worried about asking for guidance to the loo!

Conclusion:

There seems to be a missed business opportunity for serving disabled customers who are waiting in departures. 246 people in this survey said they did not spend additional money by going shopping or buying refreshments. If we look at conclusion 4 and the view of passenger waiting areas, it could be concluded that so much more could be made if these areas were turned into ‘business class style lounges’ with refreshments and click and deliver shopping services. The challenge is to move perceptions about disabled people from difficulty to business opportunity.

Recommendation 7:

Thought should be given by airports to how to provide a retail and refreshment service in the passenger waiting areas.

This could be a combination of ordering from the waiting area using technology or offering an assistance service. Disabled passengers could be given a much more enjoyable customer experience through the provision of a lounge-style service.

8. We asked respondents who travelled with assistance dogs if the correct procedures were followed

Nearly half of respondents who travel with an assistance dog reported that the paperwork was not checked, that staff distracted the dog and that awareness of how to manage an assistance dog was poor. There were several comments raised about the lack of staff knowledge about travelling with an assistance dog, especially the rules around toilet facilities for the dog. The detailed customer journey that was completed as part of the research certainly backed up this finding. During our customer journey, the paperwork allowing the dog to fly was not checked.

Of the 16 respondents who indicated they travel with an assistance dog, over half reported that there were some issues.

They were all very courteous. The only issue I have at the airport is that there is no place really to relieve a dog and when you were on flights for several hours and then waiting again for 45 minutes to an hour to catch another flight it is going to be several hours before the dog can eventually eliminate. Even human beings cannot hold their bladder for that long but they expect our guide dogs to do so and then if they make a mistake then they think our dogs are not trained. Our dogs do not eat or drink before boarding a plane for three hours before the flight and can go as long as 10 hours without any chance of eliminating. I rely solely on my guide dog for my independence and I travel quite often totally by myself, as I have no family. No one ever knows where the toileting area is
The lifts are not wide enough for me and my scooter and my assistance dog. The assistants always forget about my dog’s tail when closing the lift doors
Each airport is different, sometimes the check-in desk checks my dog’s passport while other airports do it at the passenger-assistance desk. It would be easier to have consistency across airports

Conclusion:

There are no real industry statistics on how many people fly each year with assistance dogs. The numbers may be low, but that should not prevent staff from having knowledge of how to manage an assistance dog. It would be useful if the industry could provide more information on how many passengers fly with assistance dogs. The challenge is to get the dog documentation check process standardised at all airports.

Recommendation 8:

Improve staff awareness on assistance dogs and improve information provision in the airports about how assistance dogs are supported whilst at the airport.

More attention needs to be given to this aspect of staff training. Airports should also consider giving out information to passengers who are known to be travelling with a dog so that the individual passenger has more knowledge on each airport and the dog toileting facilities. Information should also be available in each passenger waiting area on travelling with assistance dogs and facilities available, including water facilities past security.

9. We asked respondents about their experiences at security.

A worryingly high number of respondents reported some kind of difficulty or embarrassment when passing through security.

Of the 534 respondents

  • (363) 68% reported difficulties explaining their impairment to security staff.
Fuss-free air travel is a critical component of my personal and professional life. I run my own business and help UK and global businesses to improve their approach when recruiting and retaining disabled talent as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy. I routinely advise companies all over the world and particularly in Australia and the Middle East. My partner lives in Bahrain. Air travel is central to how I get on in my world. I want a fuss-free and dignified experience. What I get is something very different. Having had chronic arthritis for 36 years, and with both hips and knees replaced I don’t always walk far or very well. Even the times when I use a wheelchair-assist service I am sometimes faced with requests to remove my shoes (I can’t), lift my bag into a conveyer belt (I can’t) and lift my arms in the air if required to use a body scanner (I can’t). Being forced to explain again and again has changed what used to be an exciting and life-affirming experience into one to be dreaded. I can be reduced to rubble.
I had a very bad/unpleasant experience at Stansted airport, going through security and when I tried to bring it up with them after my trip, they said I should have complained at the time, but that could have delayed me getting my flight! I went through security barriers, they wouldn’t let me use my own walking stick. When I passed through, the beeper kept going off, I offered my card that states I had a hip replacement in 2009, but they didn’t want to take it. They then insisted I had to be taken off to a portacabin type of thing, but they could see I was having difficulty. They asked me to step up on a stupid step thing, lean on a wall, for more scanning. In the end, they gave up, asked me to sign something and let me go, it was appalling and humiliating and has put me off flying through there, yet on the way back through Dublin, no problem at all
I wear full length callipers on both legs. Although I was dealt with sensitively, on one occasion a member of staff asked if I could take them off!! But when I said no they just scanned them. What was problematic was them taking my crutches off me to scan then asking me to walk through the scanner!! When I explained the staff agreed to scan them when I was sat down. Staff could use their common sense more. If you have crutches, bilateral full length callipers and are in your 70s the chances are that no you can’t really manage without them even for a short amount of time!!

Conclusion:

Airport security protocols are vital; however, there does seem to be a lack of disability awareness from security staff. Inappropriate questions and requests are often made. The challenge is to find a sensible balance between security needs and the access needs of disabled people.

Recommendation 9:

Airport security staff should receive more disability awareness training. Disabled passengers should be encouraged to use the specialized security track where one is available.

10. We asked respondents to rate how they feel about the airport Passenger Assistance Service and how this impacts on their travel experience.

The majority of respondents ticked a reply that indicated feelings of anxiety, worry and fear. Only 17% of respondents had confidence in the Passenger Assistance Service.

Of the 534 respondents

  • (171) 32% ticked = I have a lot of fear about how I will manage at the airport
  • (144) 27% ticked = I worry a great deal about how I will manage at the airport
  • (128) 24% ticked = I am anxious that my booked arrangements will be ready for me
  • (64) 12% ticked = I am fairly confident that my arrangements will be in place for me/li> (27) 5% ticked = I am very confident that the airport will handle all my access
  • needs

We asked focus group respondents in one (or a few!) words to sum up how they feel about airport assistance

Frustrated. Fear. Anxiety. Worry. Inconvenience

Treat passengers in wheelchairs like any other passenger and not like baggage to be moved by you at your convenience
It can be very good, although this is rare; and it can be appalling. The inconsistency causes huge amounts of worry as you are unsure whether or not you will be helped; whether your wheelchair will appear at the end of the flight; whether or not you will be helped to the toilet during the flight; etc., etc.
I never get the same service twice–it all just seems a mystery–why can’t it be consistent? This would remove the fear I have

Conclusion:

Disabled passengers seem to lack confidence in the Passenger Assistance Service. The challenge is to create a communication process that reassures disabled passengers on a frequent basis.

Recommendation 10:

Ensure that the Passenger Assistance Service process is consistent and reliable across all airports. Use technology (such as SMS messaging) to keep in touch with passengers giving reassurance throughout their journey.

11. We asked respondents how they found out about the passenger assistance system.

It was reassuring to see that many passengers were advised at the point of booking to make arrangements for passenger assistance. However, the statistics discovered during this research indicate that nearly 30% of passengers needing assistance do not know they have to book in advance. Several also indicated that they did their own research and then discovered they could book assistance in advance.

Of the 534 respondents

  • (278) 52% responded, when I booked my flight I was told what I needed to do either by my operator or by the website
  • (101) 19% responded, I had to find out for myself and did my own research
  • (155) 29% responded, I did not know I could book in advance and approached passenger assistance on the day of travel
I had no idea that as a parent I could book assistance. I just assumed this was for wheelchair users and not me just because I had a son with special needs
I thought this was a turn up and use service–it wasn’t until I was talking to an assistant that they told me I should have booked in advance
The problem with the booking service is that it doesn’t cover me as a parent with a disabled child. I always have to ring up and explain, booking online is a bit confusing if you don’t need a wheelchair

Conclusion:

Lack of awareness of the Passenger Assistance Service remains one of the biggest challenges for the airport industry. People who just turn up needing assistance put a huge strain on daily staffing and equipment resources. This often results in staff and equipment not being in the right place ready for passengers who have pre-booked. This again has a knock on effect on perceptions of the service. Quite often the service providers move an additional 250 passengers each day who have not pre-booked. The challenge is to collect more accurate and timely information on passenger needs.

Recommendation 11:

Make it more obvious at the point of booking a flight for passengers to indicate if they need to pre-book Passenger Assistance.

The industry needs to review the ‘codes’ used to identify passenger needs. More needs to be done to widen the scope of the booking procedure so that it is really clear that any passenger needing help with navigation, interpretation, guidance, use of the priority lane etc. can book exactly what they need.

12. We asked respondents how they would feel about a differentiation in service between pre-notified and non-pre-notified bookings for passenger assistance.

Given the findings in 11 above, we asked this question of the focus groups and during telephone interviews and on email. We wanted to explore how disabled people would feel about a differentiated service.

Feedback:

If you book your car in for a service you don’t expect to be bumped down the queue just because someone else arrived without a booking. Now you have pointed it out it does make sense to have a scheme that gives better service to pre-booked appointments. This would also educate customers for future trips
I have never noticed any information at the airport telling me I must book in advance, why is this not made clear. Could passengers not be given more information to read in the waiting areas explaining the importance of pre-booking?
When I fly with BA I get a text telling me about my flight. When I land I get another text asking me to rate my experience. The airlines do this all the time but no one asks me the same questions on my access experience
What would be amazing would be if the person greeting me had extra special awareness of autism. That way they would know my needs without me having to explain them over and over again. Could I priority book that I have a son with autism and could we go straight to the priority lane and then to the gate and a quiet area. Now that would be a great service
I guess some folk will always just turn up. Like if you broke your leg skiing. But if you have a life impairment with very specific lifting and handling needs like me, a priority service would be a godsend.

Conclusion

The people we asked all seemed to think it made sense to introduce a differentiated service. There was recognition that some people just need emergency help such as if you had hurt yourself on holiday and needed temporary assistance. There was a recognition that there would always need to be capacity for non-pre- notified assistance. However, giving a priority service to pre-booked appointments for specific impairment needs would be welcomed. The challenge is getting the industry to collaborate.

Recommendation 12:

The industry should discuss introducing a differentiated service for pre-booked and non-pre-booked passenger assistance.

The pre- booking system should enable more impairment-related information to be shared to ‘tailor’ a service to meet specific impairment needs.

Often, staff at airports could do a better job if they had more information on passengers’ specific access needs. For example just being told the code DPNA (which means Disabled passenger with intellectual or developmental disability needing assistance. This covers passengers with disabilities such as learning difficulties, dementia, Alzheimer’s or Down’s syndrome who travel alone and will need ground assistance) doesn’t enable a parent to specify what help is needed.

13. We asked respondents to indicate how they would feel about a membership priority scheme using an App.

The suggestion is for a membership scheme for disabled people (similar to the general airline membership schemes), which would enable access requirements to be recorded and used by the airlines.

Feedback:

There was one which I joined but think it has folded. Can't remember what it was called. BA used to have one and all I had to do was quote a number when I was booking by phone. Some airlines are better than others for allowing you to specify assistance required when booking on-line
Well BA know I am a vegetarian on my membership form but they don’t know I have a limb difference, which means I need help with my bags. I can’t record this anywhere. So often when I turn up at an airport there is a wheelchair waiting for me. I don’t need a chair, my legs work just fine
I once heard the assistant on his radio call me a ‘right charley’. What they meant apparently was I had been coded as WCHR. It’s not so nice to know you are a widget for the day that has to be moved around like a piece of luggage
I am a member of a lot of things like the Blue Badge Scheme. I have no objection to a scheme so long as it means I get the service I want and stay in control. So long as it’s not big brother it would be empowering
What is a pain for me is I am independent, I rarely book to use the service. But when I get to security I get the same issue–please remove your shoes. I can’t. I can’t walk without my raised heel. I always end up having to explain their procedures to them! How could an App help me? Could it give me something I could show security on my smart phone, like a tick or something. A symbol priority pass?
That would be cool. An app that lets you know the service is ready and waiting for you, a member of staff who knows what to do and keeps you independent a bit more. So if I wanted to go off shopping they could find me later

Conclusion:

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the feedback for a membership scheme to be developed using an App that could record specific access requirements. This would mean the disabled person could take more control over their airport visit. Information would only need to be given once and the information could be updated for those with a degenerative condition of fluctuating need. The challenge is getting the industry to collaborate.

Recommendation 13:

Develop a membership programme for disabled passengers that gives priority booking.

The industry must improve how it collects information on the access needs of disabled passengers. The codes currently used are too restrictive and actually hinder the Passenger Assistance Service provider from delivering a timely effective service. Customers should be able to share their information once. This should be linked to a text service that keeps passengers informed of their service, which would go a long way to addressing the concerns highlighted in 10 above, about fear and anxiety at the airport.

14. We asked respondents to rate how easy it was to use the Passenger Assistance Booking service.

The majority of respondents who pre-book assistance and are frequent flyers indicated that the booking system is fairly easy to use. But confidence in the booking process seems to be low. Respondents often report feeling the need to ‘constantly double check’ that the booking had been processed. Whilst the booking system seemed easy to use, the amount of information you could give was limited.

Of the 534 responses:

  • (150) 28% of respondents reported that the facilities were EXCELLENT
  • (165) 31% of respondents reported that the facilities were GOOD
  • (144) 27% of respondents reported that the facilities were ACCEPTABLE
  • (59) 11% of respondents reported that the facilities were POOR
  • (16) 3% of respondents reported that the facilities were EXTREMELY POOR
If you think about it, I book my flight with BA, I manage my booking online. I have to then rely on that information being passed to the airport, who have the responsibility to make sure my needs are met. The airport then subcontracts that to a third party and passes on the information again. In addition, you have to meet different people at check-in and security. It’s all bound to go wrong when so many organisations are involved. In theory it’s easy. But the reality is you can never quite manage your booking and give enough detailed information about what you need. And then it all goes wrong in translation. So what you think you have booked sometimes just doesn’t happen
It’s not difficult once you know what you are doing, but once I have booked online I still find myself calling the helpdesk to double check everything
It would be easier if the Add Assistance tab was more prominent on the airline websites in the manage my booking part. Every airline does it a bit differently, can’t they all get together and agree on a better way?

Conclusion:

Once people are familiar with the process for booking assistance, it seems to be straightforward. However, the lack of consistency and limited information that can be shared limits the effectiveness of the service. The challenge is to create a unified system across all airlines.

Recommendation 14:

The process of booking passenger assistance needs to be made consistent across airlines with more opportunity to add specific information on access needs.

15. We asked respondents how they would rate the service to assist at arrivals and with luggage collection.

The feedback on this issue was mixed. Responses were influenced by the customer’s experiences with their EMAs. If the EMA was not delivered to the aircraft door then perceptions on the arrivals service were rated as poor. Some customers reported confusion with the arrivals system.

Of the 534 responses:

  • (117) 22% of respondents reported that the service to assist at arrivals and with luggage collection was EXCELLENT
  • (139) 26% of respondents reported that the service to assist at arrivals and with luggage collection was GOOD
  • (139) 26% of respondents reported that the service to assist at arrivals and with luggage collection was ACCEPTABLE
  • (107) 20% of respondents reported that the service to assist at arrivals and with luggage collection was POOR
  • (32) 6% of respondents reported that the service to assist at arrivals and with luggage collection was EXTREMELY POOR
There was also the time at Glasgow airport where there were four people requiring wheelchairs plus myself who had my own. Myself and two of the people requiring wheelchairs were left on the plane as it appeared the wheelchair services hadn't turned up. It transpires they had turned up with four wheelchairs, but the people accompanying the first two people who needed the chairs decided they didn’t want to walk either so had sat in the spare chairs. The wheelchair services people were expecting four wheelchair passengers and they had taken four up the jetty oblivious to the fact there were still another two passengers (plus me) on the plane
Mostly I am delayed waiting for someone to arrive to get me off the plane. There is always a different excuse, The Ambulift wasn’t available, or staff could not find my chair. I refuse to get in an airport chair as they hurt me

Conclusion:

There is some concern that passengers are kept waiting on a plane, that in particular EMAs are not available on arrival. However, the service assistance at baggage reclaim was generally felt to be good. The challenge is to ensure that the right arrivals process is implemented.

Recommendation 15:

Passengers should be kept more informed of procedures at arrivals. Equipment should be returned to the aircraft doors in a timely fashion.

16. We asked respondents to tell us how they WANTED to feel about the airport Passenger Assistance Service.

We asked respondents to complete the sentence: I want to feel The majority of respondents indicated feelings of wanting to be Reassured, Confident, Independent.

Feedback:

I want to feel independent. Don't assume that every disabled person requires babysitting. Some, like myself, are quite independent
I want to feel like a customer, not a tiresome inconvenience
I want to feel valued as a customer
I want to shop, eat and drink, not be told to wait and do as I am told, I am not a child
I want to simply know that the assistance I have arranged will simply just happen
I want to feel peace of mind. For it to be reliable and consistent. Currently, it causes much anxiety as you never know whether the assistance you have requested/booked will actually happen. Also, what happens seems to differ every time–even with the same airline. Most important thing for me personally is for my wheelchair to turn up at the aircraft door, in one piece, when I arrive at my destination
I want to feel reassured. When what you have requested isn’t implemented it’s so frustrating. For example, I can’t walk at all and need a full carry-on service; however, this message doesn’t always get through and they are expecting me to walk onto the plane. I need reassurance that they have all of the information they need about me so that they can provide me with the right level of access
I want to feel NOT humiliated. When your wheelchair is not brought to the aircraft door and they wish to push you through the airport in a horrible old wheelchair. This is humiliating and strips me of my dignity and respect–I have lost count of the number of times my wheelchair ends up in baggage reclaim
I want to feel included

The challenge is for the industry to provide a reassuring customer experience. Recommendation 16: Passengers should be kept more informed of procedures at arrivals.

The customer’s journey must be more than just moving people around the airport. It should personalise the experience and improve how disabled people feel about air travel.

Section Two

UK Statistics

  • 64,596,800 = the population of the UK.1
  • 11,900,000 = disabled people in the UK; this is roughly 19% of the population.2
  • £80 billion a year = the estimated collective spending power of disabled people in the UK.3
  • 49% of UK citizens on average fly at least once each year.4
  • If 49% of the population fly each year, we should expect therefore to see some 5.8 million disabled people fly each year.

The reality

  • The number of disabled passengers estimated to fly each year is 2 million
  • OCS provide assistance to 1.5 million disabled passengers each year
  • Of these passengers, approximately 70% pre-book assistance with OCS

Airline examples

BA had 400,000 disabled passengers in 2014, of these, 30,000 were frequent flyers.

These figures could suggest that disabled people are less likely to fly when compared with the rest of the UK population. If disabled people were to fly more, this could represent a business growth opportunity for the airline industry.

1 ONS statistics http://ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index. html?nscl=Population

2 DWP https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ disability-facts-and-figures/disability-facts-and- figures

3 BDF http://www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/customer- experience/the-evidence/

4 www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/ uploads/attachment_data/file/336702/experiences-of- attitudes-towards-air-travel.pdf

I am...

I am a comedienne that jet sets around the world. I am a person of short stature and big personality who uses a scooter to scoot around. My scooter is my freedom, my means of earning a living, a device that gives me independence. Break my scooter and hell you break me! If I can’t travel, I can’t work and that affects how I earn my living. Not so funny!

I am a parliamentarian with 18 years of flying from Scotland to London. I am also a wheelchair user. I usually travel with a companion. Please listen to what the passenger wants, which means speaking directly to the disabled passenger and not people accompanying (unless it is clear the passenger is unable to speak for his or herself) but don’t make assumptions.

I am a businessman. I have limited vision and I use a white cane. It is frustrating at an airport because I cannot navigate it by myself. I need assistance to find the toilets, check-in desk and to get through security. What is so irritating is when it is assumed I need a wheelchair but not assumed I will want a coffee and the loo! Suddenly you are not a person who wants to shop and grab a latte but you become a 'widget' for the day that is someone’s job to move you along, like a baggage trolley.

I am a person with a hearing loss. I am also self-employed as a management consultant and fly around the UK to visit clients. I often feel excluded as I can’t always make myself understood at check-in and security.

I am a parent of a son with autism. There is little understanding or appreciation of what it is like to manage my son’s impairment in the busy airport environment. The noise, the waiting around, all add to my son’s anxiety. We are so stressed at airports that we rarely fly now.

I am a businesswoman running a successful consultancy and I am a wheelchair user; I can’t walk at all. I use a manual wheelchair; small and lightweight that can collapse down. I need to be met at the gate and have a ‘carry on’ to the plane. However, if they allocate me the front row, I would be able to transfer directly from my own wheelchair rather than having to transfer on to an aisle chair and then be pushed to a seat further down the aircraft. This would also allow a much quicker exit at the end of the flight. I realize this isn’t necessarily do-able for long-haul, however it makes sense for internal flights and short haul.

I am a professional sports person and in the last three months I have been on eight flights and had my wheelchair damaged on four. One was a write-off, and another time the damage means the wheelchair can’t go outside any more.

I am a regional banker. I have a cheap manual wheelchair for flights–my electric wheelchair cost £7,000 and I wouldn’t dream of taking that on a flight. The manual chair is purely to go on planes and be battered.

I am a frequent traveller. I recently visited the UK on holiday. I was greeted on arrival in London by my wheelchair in pieces. Staff had dismantled it to get it on the plane without informing me–the chair is not designed to be taken apart–I had to put it back together with the help of a friend.