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NEWS Last modified on May 3, 2018

BLOG: Enhancing the passenger experience with accessibility

Head of marketing at Tensator, Joanne Turner, explores the importance of enabling accessibility for all within the busy airport environment.  

Like any other customer-facing industry, ensuring first-class passenger experience is crucial for staff working across the aviation industry.

With factors such as delays, queues and long walking times between terminals often inevitable, managing these difficulties alongside meeting passenger expectations is key to keeping travellers happy and ensuring repeat business.

This complexity presents a challenge, particularly when considering the varying needs of all passengers using airports daily.
Facilities managers must consider those with heavy luggage, wheelchairs, pushchairs and sight or mobility issues, as well as ‘hidden’ conditions such as autism, or memory difficulties. Therefore, ensuring a seamless customer experience is becoming a much more intricate task that requires increased consideration.

Pushing for accessible aviation

The UK Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) latest Airport Accessibility Report, released in August 2017, showed that the number of passengers with a disability travelling by air has grown by more than two thirds since 2010.

Furthermore, requests for use of airport assistance services from these passengers also rose by more than 66% within the same time scale.

Of all the UK airports that were assessed as part of this report, the majority were found to offer a good service for disabled travellers.

However, four were rated 'poor' when measured against factors such as waiting times, engaging with disability groups and customer satisfaction survey scores.

A draft transport accessibility action plan was also revealed by the UK's Department For Transport last year, which covers a range of transport modes including aviation.

With its aim to ensure people with disabilities have equal opportunity to travel, the plan offers recommendations on how to improve transport accessibility, based on in-depth consultations with key stakeholders.

Suggestions such as increasing the number of accessible vehicles given to taxi authorities were made, as well as improving ‘alternative journey options’ on trains if the only disabled toilet on board becomes unexpectedly out of use, for example. It also encourages feedback on each action proposed from the general public.

Clearly, there is increasing pressure on airports to do more for disabled citizens, and alongside the requirements of The Equality Act 2010, failure to do so is unlawful.
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But the true benefits of making all customers feel at ease within airports lie far beyond simply ticking legal boxes.

The Purple Pound’s power

Over 13 million disabled people live in the UK of who, according to the CAA, are travelling by air more now than ever.

Known as the ‘purple pound’, the spending power of this demographic is estimated to be worth over £249 billion to the UK economy, while those aged 50 or over, the ‘silver pound’, spent more money than younger generations in 2016 – a trend that is expected to continue.

Catering towards these passengers with huge spending power, as well as their specialist needs, is important for commercial prosperity in addition to ever increasing ethical and legal requirements.

Simple ways to reduce stress

While travelling can be one of the most exciting parts of a trip, many passengers are apprehensive of aeroplanes and can find airports incredibly stressful. This can be amplified for travellers with a physical or hidden disability.

What’s more, the journey often plays a critical part in a traveller’s overall experience and is a prime memory of any trip.

It’s therefore critical to create a seamless experience for all passengers to eradicate any unnecessary tension or stress, keeping in mind the needs of vulnerable and disabled customers, too.

Adhering to criteria within CAA’s Airport Accessibility Report, this can be improved by partnering with local disability organisations to identify each airport’s specific challenges.

Investing in its assistance service, whether outsourced to a contractor or managed in-house, is also crucial to improving access in each airport and increasing confidence in disabled passengers.

A closer look at terminal layout is another key factor that could affect a customer’s overall experience.

Whether caused by increased security measures or due to problems with the aircraft itself, delays are an unavoidable, sometimes distressing factor of air travel. Here, communication is key, particularly with staff and employees responsible for special assistance services.

Ensuring they are aware of such issues as early as possible can help to ensure a smooth, streamlined service. Without effective sharing of such information, timing problems may arise, leaving vulnerable passengers without the help they need.  

During delays, queues can quickly form with a backlog of passengers, making terminals crowded, disorderly and in some instances, dangerous. Here, passenger flow is a critical factor to successfully manage long waiting times and ease congestion in airports.
The use of barriers and other queue management systems are common techniques used to manage queues, but considerations must be made for those with wheelchairs, walking aids, trolleys or buggies who may find navigating such areas difficult.

Specially developed solutions such the low-profile universal base for Tensabarriers allow wheels to pass over the edge of an existing Tensabarriermore easily, reducing the risk of stalling, trips and falls when moving through busy lines.

What’s more, they could enable passengers to independently pass through particular areas, without the need of special assistance routes. Although a simple switch, such measures can ensure an already stressful situation isn’t escalated due to poor experiences that can easily be avoided.

A great experience for all

According to the CAA’s report, airports that rated well in areas including waiting time performance targets and customer satisfaction surveys performed best overall.

In addition to strengthening special assistance services, this reiterates the wider importance of addressing delays and queues when examining accessibility within airports, and creating a streamlined customer experience for all.

Beyond the aviation sector, all transportation hubs including rail and coach stations can instigate such techniques to improve accessibility for disabled travellers.

Doing so is a vital step towards improving passenger satisfaction and inclusivity within the UK’s biggest transport hubs, regardless of how people choose to travel.

For more information about Tensator, visit www.tensatorgroup.com

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