Steven Wheeler

I am …

The Customer Services Director for OCS, it is my job to ensure passengers’ access needs are fully met at the airports where we operate.

OCS provides global facilities management solutions for passengers, airports and airlines. We help manage the Passenger Assistance Service that is provided at many airports, both in the UK and worldwide. We have a great deal of industry data on the provision of this service and a lot of compliance data on how well we are delivering this service; however, we wanted to understand a lot more about how disabled people feel about the service and what improvements they would like to see.

We commissioned this report to gain a greater understanding of what issues disabled passengers face when they travel.

OCS delivers the Passenger Assistance Service at London Gatwick, Manchester, Dublin, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds Bradford, Cork, Glasgow and Belfast, as well as Sydney and Schonefeld. We are one of the largest providers of the Passenger Assistance Service and we are determined to be world leaders.

The perceptions highlighted in this report need to be looked at in detail by the whole airline industry and all airport stakeholders. That is why we have set out detailed recommendations on which we would like to convene further discussion with our peers and stakeholders.

Let me start by explaining the regulations

My rationale for this is that the findings of this report indicate that many people are unclear on their rights as disabled passengers. The findings indicate that some of the feelings experienced by disabled customers may be as a result of how the regulations are written, worded and implemented. Language, which is an industry standard, such as ‘PRM’ meaning passenger with restricted mobility and the acronyms used to complete passengers’ bookings may lead to some customers having negative perceptions about the service (see Appendix 1).

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 to actually deliver this service.

Assistance should be available, in accordance with the Regulations, throughout the airport departure and arrival process. This means giving assistance from arrival at the airport entrance, through security and passport control procedures and throughout the waiting period. Passengers should not be left unattended (unless they specifically request it) for more than 30 minutes.

Wheelchair users and disabled passengers should never be left in a separate or isolated location where they have no access to airport facilities or to staff. Flight information screens should be visible from waiting areas.

Assistance must be available to take someone to the toilet if requested. Assistance providers are not required to help with toileting.

Above all, assistance should be provided in a professional, courteous, discreet and caring way so that the disabled passenger is not made to feel awkward or embarrassed.

Airports should ensure that their contracted assistance provider has adequate numbers of well-trained staff available, as well as all necessary equipment and facilities to provide a consistent, high-quality, seamless service to the disabled passenger.

The airport assistance providers, like OCS, are responsible for helping the disabled passenger to board the aircraft. This can be by means of an air bridge or with equipment such as Ambulifts/High Loaders if the aircraft is at a remote stand. In either case, a boarding chair that fits down the aisles of the aircraft will be used.

The responsibility of the assistance provider extends to helping the passenger into his/her seat and, if requested, stowing their hand baggage in the overhead locker.

On arrival the same process applies.

Airlines should make clear their policy on boarding/disembarking of passengers who need assistance. The practice of boarding disabled passengers first and disembarking them last enables assistance to be provided with dignity and with maximum available space for lifting and facilitating transfer to/from the aircraft seat.

In the case of emergency evacuation of an aircraft, disabled passengers cannot expect to be given priority over other passengers.

Putting the regulations into practice

The regulations are clear, and at OCS we know what we have to do. The difference between achieving compliance and delivering excellence in customer service is ‘how’ we deliver this service and how disabled people ‘feel’ about the service they have to use and are often reliant upon.

The report did not set out to examine compliance or effectiveness of the European Regulations.

The purpose of this report is to examine how disabled people feel about the Passenger Assistance Service; we are looking for key ideas to help improve the service offered and improve passenger experience.

This report has highlighted a number of things that we can improve on, and at OCS we will be using this report to guide our training and improve our facilities.

This report will help OCS in the development of its strategic plan for 2017 by ensuring that disabled passengers feelings and perceptions are fully addressed in our staff training.

This report will help us improve how we deliver our service as we strive to be the exemplars in our sector. We also hope that this report will influence other stakeholders in the airport and airline industry to consider how we can work together to improve the whole customer journey.