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Airport Accessibility

Airport Accessibility

Altogether Travel is an award winning accessible holiday and travel provider. Our companions accompany and support our customers to enjoy holidays all over the world.  When planning and booking customers travel we research many airports to ensure it has suitable facilities.

We have observed that not all airports offer consistent information to passengers or it can be difficult to find. If travel professionals find this a challenge then how must older or disabled travellers feel, and how confident would they be with using an airport or consider taking a holiday?

We decided to test how good 22 airports are at prompting the services they offer disabled passengers, how easy it is to find information, how quick they take to respond to questions relating to their services and look for any innovative ideas that other airports could learn from.

We researched from the perspective of someone considering flight, seeking airport information online. Customers may choose which airport to fly from based on facilities available for them to have most comfortable experience, and also based on what they can find out online.

The airports in our online research included 17 UK airports and 5 International airports.
We scored airports using the following scoring system (1-3) and potential top score of 84. Higher airport score results best demonstrated across questions.

1 = No/Poor information provided            2 = Adequate                     3 = Good

1. Was special assistance easy to locate on website
2. Is there dedicated telephone number
3. Does airport have a dedicated chat button
4. Can you ask question via Social media
5. Length of time to respond to a question
6. Airport access statement
7. Accessible parking info easy to find
8. Accessible drop off information
9. Free disabled drop off
10. Hidden disabilities section on website
11. Offer Dementia friendly services
12. Offer Autism friendly services
13. Information in accessible toilets easy to find
14. Description of toilet facilities
15. Photographs of toilets/ facilities
16. Hoist/ specialist mobility equipment available
17. Changing places (adult)
18. Does airport offer an accessible FAQ section
19. Does airport provide walking distances in airport
20. Does airport offer services for deaf passengers
21. Does airport detail assistance dog facilities
22. Does airport offer videos to demonstrate services
23. Does airport offer an interpreting service
24. Any awards/ accreditation for access services
25. Innovative services unique to airport
26. Overall presentation of information
27. Ease of use of website in general
28. Does airport publish standards and results for PRM service


Ranking Airport(s) Score
1st Gatwick, Bristol 70
2nd Aberdeen 69
3rd Glasgow, Edinburgh 68
4th Liverpool 64
5th Cardiff 63
6th Prestwick, East Midlands 61
7th Belfast 60
8th London Heathrow, Manchester 59
9th Luton 56
10th Stansted, London City, Leeds Bradford 55
11th Birmingham 54
12th Dublin 51
13th Singapore 47
14th Dubai 43
15th Paris CDG, New York JFK 37


Accessibility unknowns can be off-putting for people, some avoiding holidays outside the UK as seems too difficult.
The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) 2017/18 airport accessibility report states in June 2019 IATA (International Air Transport Association) estimates there are one billion people worldwide with disabilities.
The Challenging for Change Report 2015/16 by OCS highlights an estimated £80 billion spending power each year of disabled people in the UK.

We might expect these significant figures to motivate airports to recognise an investment opportunity in the Purple Pound having clear potential.
Both reports can be found online** – we took a closer look and compared with our research results.

What we found out & Highlights
Airport accessibility is a benefit to fellow travellers as well as the passenger seeking support. When things don’t go smoothly, the negative experience can have a huge impact either on that trip or enough to put someone off travelling due to inconvenience and stress. Looking at satisfaction as well as working with charities or disability organisations to move forward towards improvement.

The main performance area airports will record and publicly show is focused on waiting times when receiving assistance. Although this is an important metric and standard to uphold, we at Altogether Travel think this should not be the only way to monitor service standards. From our research we found only 1 airport to report their complaints and complements for service provided, while most stick to the requirement of time reports. Perhaps this information is not recorded, or maybe this is something airports don’t want to share. Only way to know for sure is if these details become more transparent, proud to show the positive experience they can bring to the bookends of any holiday – travelling from and back home. Also holding themselves accountable for any poor service.

Providing airport distances online (not by minutes walking, as different pace for many) can help people work out if they may require assistance – a category we scored against in our research, and this is not provided clearly by all airports selected.

Having a main point of contact (email address and telephone number) or an Accessibility Manager for airports can provide customer service to reassure passengers, even if to direct to their airline for assistance request or clear up any missing information with website.

When requesting assistance, systems should allow for more individual support details to be added to avoid miscommunication of information between airline, airports and staff. Things typically get lost in translation when passed on but even a 100-character note box could help details to be clear and avoid repetition or inconveniences on day of travel.

Some airports list charities/organisations working with to improve accessibility and engage with community, those describing how working together demonstrates more than brief discussion. Some airports are proactive, offering meeting minutes/forum notes available to view online, and what actions have been completed/ planned.

Service performance results – only London Gatwick seems to offer PRM service results above CAA requirements of waiting times, showing percentages for complaints/ complements at airport which offers transparency and accountability of service. Others show seeking PRM feedback to improve experience but no evidence of this clearly shown. We feel ‘service’ should be literally synonymous with ‘experience’, not only waiting time focused. Percentages of complaints/ complements received by number of passengers is a basic statistic we feel could be offered by all airports. Some may be hesitant to show this of course if more complaints are received by proportion of customers, than complaints compared to number of complements received. It might be expected complements would be highlighted (unless little to none are received).

Highlights airports could consider, as some offer:

  • Visual guides/videos of what can expect at airport.
  • Visits to airport before you travel.
  • Videos of service provided/equipment available.
  • Approx. walking distances throughout airport.
  • Link to ‘AccessAble’ website with accessibility details/images.
  • The ‘Signlive’ videos/app for interpreting services, for hearing impaired people.
  • Airport map describing where toilets, changing places (accessible for adults), equipment, quiet area/sensory room, assistance, and location of dog facilities.
  • Changing Places symbol on airport maps – it is also unclear across many airports if ‘changing places’ refers to baby changing table located within disabled toilet, or if accessible adult changing facilities are available.

When airports can show consistency and people can expect an enjoyable experience, confidence and bookings may grow – benefitting all areas of the tourism industry.

We hope this has been an interesting read and we invite you to get in touch with us:

Tel: 0141 406 1821

**Both reports mentioned with our research results can be found online, and we have put together some highlights below:
The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) 2017/18 airport accessibility report and The Challenging for Change Report 2015/16 by OCS.

People should not be left waiting in isolation to ensure comfortable and able to access toilet facilities or drinking water.

Developments in technology can carry out automatic data collection throughout each customers journey, however few airports invest in this. The sector including airlines strive to keep costs low to operate effectively – but with unhappy customers the current system appears to be not so effective. Number of staff, training quality and equipment can all contribute to effective and inclusive service. More staff at peak times could reduce the wait for many.

Shop aisles and queues may not be accessible for many people to navigate.

People expressed frustration with having to explain things to airport staff and have felt they were treated more like baggage than people – a clear opportunity to improve the customer journey. Peoples’ experiences are shown in their own words – such as being asked to walk through security scanners after taking crutches away, and to lift arms when unable to.

PRM = Passengers Reduced mobility, often used interchangeably with ‘Special/Airport Assistance’ even if the person does not require assistance with mobility. This leads to confusion and frustration, assuming a person requires a wheelchair but not assuming they may like a coffee or to browse in shops. Offering a wheelchair to a blind person for example is inappropriate and can be avoided if noted no mobility support required.

Informing your airline when booking or at least 48 hours before their flight can help to reduce waiting time as staff will be expecting you.

Also highlighted is how staff lack awareness of assistance dog toileting areas, unwelcome interaction with their dog, unclear allowances for food and drinking water, lack being mindful to not trap dogs’ tail in lift/doors, and often unsure of document checking procedure. Dogs may have to hold their bladder for many hours and if they have an accident it is assumed that they are not well trained.

Speaking to people with the disabled passenger, not the individual directly is incredibly frustrating. Many people are fully capable of communicating themselves and some friendly customer service is desirable. Feeling valued and included are important for a positive customer journey.

Customers can receive texts from airlines about your flight being tomorrow and feedback requests are sent the day after travel. It may be helpful to also receive text reminders of when check in closes, gate when announced and any updates to times so easier to view or refer back to.

Some airports are developing training and airport design, others offering a Sunflower lanyard scheme to discreetly show staff some assistance may be beneficial, sensory rooms or quiet areas, a team of ‘Dog staff’ to relieve stress for anxious passengers, and online videos to help show what can be expected when travelling through the airport. The Aira app for audio description interprets documents and helps with finding a bag at conveyor belt.

The importance of experiences people with disabilities have with airports is shown in these reports, connecting with statistics and offers industry recommendations.