From Monday December 3rd, visually impaired passengers at Heathrow have had access to on-demand, personalised assistance via the Aira app.
The airport said access to this app and its established network allows passengers to enhance their independence throughout the journey at Heathrow and forms part of the airport’s multi-million-pound investments to improve the journeys of all passengers regardless of their requirements.
The app, available free of charge, connects passengers directly to a trained professional agent for advice on navigating through Heathrow and assist with finding specific locations – including gates, special assistance facilities, retail outlets and restaurants. It will also provide live information on news affecting their journeys. The app can be accessed by pre-loading it on mobile phones and an agent will be available to provide guided assistance on demand upon arrival at Heathrow. Alternatively, passengers can also pre-book special assistance through their airline and seek information on the app at the same time.
The number of passengers requesting special assistance at Heathrow is rising by approximately 8% each year, with over one million requests in 2017 alone – more than any other European airport. Heathrow said it is taking proactive steps to transform the service it provides for these passengers, backed by an investment of £23 million in a revamped, upgraded contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ. Last year, the airport launched the use of the ‘SignLive’ app which connects passengers to trained British Sign Language translators on demand, before and after their travel through Heathrow.
The suite of new initiatives follows feedback by passengers and guidance from the Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group. Chaired by disability rights advocate Roberto Castiglioni, this advisory group helps Heathrow deliver its vision to become industry leading when it comes to accessibility and inclusion. The Civil Aviation Authority has acknowledged the steps Heathrow has made in improving its service for people with disabilities and restored the airport’s ranking to a “good” following a “poor” rating last year.
The launch of the Aira app at Heathrow coincides with International Day of Persons with Disabilities. First launched by the United Nations in 1992, the day is now a globally recognised date that aims to celebrate and empower the 1 billion people in the world that have some form of hidden or visible disability.
Jonathan Coen, Director of Customer Relations and Service at Heathrow said:
“We are transforming the assistance service we provide to our passengers and empowering them to be as independent as possible when they are travelling through Heathrow. We have already invested £23 million in an upgraded contract with our special assistance partner, OmniServ, and introducing new equipment, training and technology to help improve our service. Aira takes us one step further – and will deliver a better travel experience for the 6,000 passengers each year that would otherwise feel less independent and less prepared when they begin their journey via Heathrow.”
Heathrow said it worked closely with the advocacy group Guide Dogs for the blind, whose Engagement Officer, Clive Wood commented: “Guide Dogs are delighted to see the introduction of the Aira app at Heathrow. Initiatives such as this will be of great benefit to many blind and partially sighted people who wish to travel independently. We certainly welcome the proactive approach being taken by Heathrow Airport to introduce a range of information and support to disabled passengers including those with sight loss. We often hear from our clients that using all forms of transport can be a stressful experience. This is why we are working with Heathrow to help take the stress out of air travel.”