Gatwick Airport says staff from across the airport came together on Sunday November 5 for an event designed to give over 30 local families with a disabled family member – and their carers – an overview of airport processes before they travel.
Travelling through an airport can be a challenge for people with restricted mobility and/ or a hidden disability and the event in the North Terminal allowed families to familiarise themselves with the sights and sounds of the airport, so it is not such a scary place when they do choose to fly.
To simulate airport processes, staff from Virgin and TUI checked families in, Gatwick’s Special Assistance team, OCS, provided buggy rides to a security area where Gatwick staff took the families through the security process in a fun and relaxed way.
Border Force officials with their search dogs, police officers and a fire engine were also on hand to replicate the entire airport experience, with staff also on hand to explain what the airport is doing to make it more accessible for those travelling with a disability.
During the previous week the British Government’s Disabilities Minister, Paul Maynard, visited Gatwick to find out more about the airport’s Hidden Disability Lanyard scheme. More than 8,000 lanyards have been issued since the scheme was introduced last year and it has been rolled out at 12 UK airports.
Currently around 11% of UK population has a hidden disability and it is thought that around 7% of the UK population potentially avoid air travel because of a hidden disability.
Gatwick says it is aiming to be the most accessible airport in the UK and is currently engaging with a broad range of disability groups to help ensure that the airport makes its services accessible for everyone. Gatwick was the UK’s first officially recognised Autism Friendly Airport by the National Autistic Society.
Nikki Barton, Head of Terminals, Gatwick Airport, said: “As an airport we are striving to be as accessible as possible and we are currently engaging with a broad range of disability groups to help make sure we account for the needs of everyone. This is an ongoing process and will take time to get right, but things have already changed for the better and we have some exciting developments planned next year.
“With so many people having a physical or hidden disability it is vital that airports everywhere make sure they are as accessible as possible. Our Accessibility Day proved very popular and I am delighted that staff from another airport came to see how we do things.”
Maria Cook, Gatwick’s Autism Ambassador, said: “It is great to see that airports across the UK have already established hidden disability schemes of their own and it is very exciting to hear that there is now interest from airports on other continents.
“Today has been a tremendous success and I would like to thank all staff from organisations across the airport who volunteered their free time to be part of it. There is a real drive to improve the airport experience for anyone with a hidden disability and I am extremely proud to have played a part in making this happen. There is still some way to go and I’m looking forward to some exciting initiatives going live next year.”
Anyone who requires assistance when travelling through Gatwick is encouraged to contact the airport’s special assistance team or their airline.