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NEWS Last modified on July 26, 2016

New report on disabled passenger experiences at UK airports shows improvements needed

A new report recommends greater collaboration between airlines, airports and service providers in order to improve the quality of assistance for disabled passengers at UK airports.

The report was commissioned to support the fact-finding phase of a long-term improvement programme led by OCS Group to gain a fuller understanding of the disabled passenger needs and address them with an improved level of service provision.

The report found that lack of knowledge among disabled passengers about the advance booking process led to uncertainty, lack of confidence in service provision and customer dissatisfaction.

The main passenger uncertainty was confusion over the roles and respective responsibilities of the airline, airport, baggage handler and the persons with reduced mobility (PRM) service provider.

By contrast, frequent flyers who knew how to book and specify the assistance they need reported a higher level of satisfaction with the Passenger Assistance Service.

“Airlines, airports, baggage handlers and PRM service providers such as OCS Group are all committed to excellent customer service but it is clear that we need to collaborate more effectively,” said Steven Wheeler, customer services director for OCS Group.
“After 50 years of experience in the aviation sector, OCS is acutely aware of the difference between achieving compliance and delivering excellence for disabled passengers. We commissioned this report to gain a greater understanding of the experiences of disabled travellers and the specific challenges they face at airports. 

“As a result of the findings, we are committed to taking a lead in co-ordinating dispersed services and working with airlines, airports, baggage handlers and other service providers in order to bring the different parties together to provide a seamless and first class service.”

Lord Blunkett, chair of the easyJet Special Assistance Advisory Group (ESAAG), contributed to the report.

In his submission, he acknowledged that air travel is complex but called for a travel experience for disabled people that is efficient, seamless and respectful:

“Confusion about individual-specific travel needs can become misinterpreted. I have, for example, as a blind person, experienced being offered a wheelchair at the airport. Dignity and access that many simply take for granted can be denied to disabled people,” said Lord Blunkett.

The report puts forward 16 recommendations for industry consideration, including improved use of technology for service co-ordination and to record the nature of individual disabilities to help deliver the support required, as indicated by these respondents:

– “The airline knows 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 the airport there is a wheelchair waiting for me. I don’t need a chair, my legs work just fine.”

– “I want to feel peace of mind. For it to 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.”

Only 17% of disabled passengers in the study were confident that the airport would have arrangements in place to handle their access requirements.

The remaining 83% expressed various degrees of anxiety about the service – with 32% reporting “a lot of fear” and 27% worrying “a great deal” about how they will manage at the airport.

Yet when judging quality, only 14% felt it was poor, with 11% rating it as poor and 3% extremely poor.

One proposal is development of an App to support a consistent and global booking process across all airlines and service providers.

The report suggests this innovation could help to resolve the recurring problem of inconsistency of service between different locations and between different parties in the service delivery chain, in order to prevent the types of inconsistencies reported in the study.

 The report noted that 30% of disabled passengers are still not booking their airport assistance in advance as required, which can result in a huge strain on resources at the airport, with associated implications on cost and also on the quality of service delivered to those who pre-booked.

The report, Challenging for Change: Airport Experiences: How disabled people feel about the service they receive, is based on customer narratives and verbatim responses gathered from 534 disabled passengers between February and November 2015. 

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