Gatwick Airport, the UK’s second busiest airport, serves around 44.6 million passengers every year. The airport’s service for passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) was improved upon by Gatwick’s new management team, Global Infrastructure Partners, in 2009. The service, provided by Once Complete Solution (OCS) aims to create a ‘pleasant and stress-free experience’ to all of the airports visitors and has expert support from the Disabled Persons Advisory Group. The airport assists approximately 47,000 passengers a month and during busy periods can offer assistance for up to 40 passengers per flight.
Gatwick has invested over £2 million to improve the airport experience for reduced mobility passengers with new facilities available throughout the North and South Terminals at Gatwick. Their services focus on creating a seamless journey for passengers ranging from offering assistance at a ‘Welcome Desk’ to 60 different help points carefully arranged throughout both airport terminals. Gatwick has also installed 8 audio-visual help points which connect a live stream so passengers can contact the PRM desk. Further developments include updating their reserved seating in the PRM lounge and the airports newly installed ‘spa-like disabled toilets’. The consideration Gatwick has taken to improve the travelling experience for people with limited mobility, those who are hard of hearing or partially sighted brings them to the forefront of accessible air travel. This is proven through the 73.5% drop in complaints (toward the PRM service) and resulted in a 35% increase in their services compliments since 2009.
Whilst making airports accessible for disabled passengers was made mandatory by European Legislation (Regulation No 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air) in 2006, the needs of older people are still not fully considered. The legislation demands high quality assistance for disabled passengers throughout airports however fails to highlight the needs of older travellers. The over 65s can be perceived as mobile and independent but may still require assistance especially with the usually long distances passengers need to walk through airports. The PRM team at Gatwick explain that the majority of the passengers who utilise their service are older travellers (65 and over) who have asked for a wheelchair or buggy assistance. In a recent survey conducted by Engage Business Network at Age UK, we have found out that 56 percent of the over 50s feel younger than their actual age group. In fact, our data shows that on average, older people feel nearly 10 years younger than their actual age. These people may not ask for assistance as they may feel it is stigmatised to use a wheelchair. Instead they may only need assistance once they realise the distances are too long for them, therefore, older passengers require an open service which is easily accessible throughout the airport.
Travelling is one of the most popular ways of spending leisure time with the older population. 52 percent of our survey respondents travel abroad at least once a year, this figure rises to nearly 58 percent for travelling within the UK. Travelling also features among those activities which the over 50s would like to do more often. Nearly 1 in 5 of our survey respondents also believe that the “fuss” of airports is the main reason why they do not use air travel. Therefore, facilitating easier air travel seems to be a worthy investment. The population is growing older; currently 1 in 6 people are aged over 65 and this figure is due to grow to 1 in 4 in the next 20 years. The travel needs of the older population are crucial in attracting customers to fly from airports such as Gatwick and allow them to experience a stress-free journey. Moreover, understating their needs may also encourage passengers to choose the airport to travel from again.
It is important not to label those requiring assistance through an airport as ‘special’, as this indicates that the person is unique and needs to adapt to their environment. Instead, it should be the environment which is adaptable to the diverse and varying range of passengers to create a truly inclusive and seamless experience when travelling. Gatwick Airport has taken strong initial steps towards considering the inclusion of those passengers who are less mobile; however the next step in extending their service offering should be to build upon their understanding of older travellers. The over 50s currently control 80% of the total population’s wealth in the UK, a huge opportunity for business to capitalise on a market who’s economic power amounts to nearly 300 billion pounds.
For more information please visit gatwick airport special assistance pages.
This blog was written by Seema Jain, a Designer and Research Associate within the Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.