Regional Gateway editor Chloë Greenbank summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.

This week has seen the Regional Gateway team attending the British-Irish Airports Expo in London. According to Chris Garton, COO, Heathrow Airport (which hosted the event), it’s been a “fantastic year with record numbers of passengers passing through British and Irish airport terminals as well as increasing levels of passenger satisfaction.”

Opening the conferencing sessions on ‘operations, sustainability and supply chains’, Neil Pakey, chairman of the Regional and Business Airports Group (RABA) and CEO Nieuport Aviation (which owns and operates Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport’s terminal) talked about how Airports Council International’s (ACI’s) Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme has provided a framework and tools for Billy Bishop to improve the customer experience and service levels across the airport. To find out more about the airport, read our exclusive interview with Neil Pakey in the current issue of Regional Gateway magazine.

Meanwhile, Samantha O’Dwyer, strategic director of aviation services, Wilson James – the aviation services provider, raised how delivering a good quality passenger experience is now more important than ever. She highlighted the need to provide a respectful and appropriate service for passengers who request special assistance through the airport, including wheelchair users, passengers with sight or hearing impairments, the elderly and those with hidden disabilities.

Accessible airport

Airports can be challenging environments at the best of times and ensuring they are accessible to all passengers was a key theme throughout the two-day conference and exhibition with speakers taking to the stage throughout the day on Tuesday 11 June to discuss the challenges and opportunities for airports embracing the need to be accessible to all.

Liverpool John Lennon’s customer services executive, Christina Smith, explained how staff training and a cultural shift is vital in ensuring all passengers can benefit from a smooth and enjoyable airport experience. In addition to providing training for its staff, Liverpool Airport is working directly with passengers with disabilities to ensure it can cater adequately for all travellers. In 2014, the airport joined a network of organisations working towards an Autism Friendly City region and the airport is committed towards training its staff in ASD awareness.

Agreeing that a cultural shift is needed, Samantha Saunders, head of innovation and regulatory compliance at Omniserv, stated that simple measures such as referring to staff who assist passengers with reduced mobility as “customer service experience executives” rather than “wheelchair pushers” will help. She also reiterated that no two passengers are the same, they all have different requirements so there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, as she urged all airports to “work towards a better level of inclusivity and understanding.”

See differently

Sara Marchant, Gatwick Airport’s accessibility manager, teamed up with Paralympian Marc Powell to showcase how collaboration breeds innovation and improvement. Gatwick has an ongoing partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to ensure that the airport has appropriate processes and services in place for blind and partially sighted passengers. Powell, who is partially sighted, explained that 93% of those who are registered as blind or partially sighted “still have residual visions, they can still see something,” so educating staff within the airport about different passengers’ needs is crucial. The airport has introduced Eyeware – an app that simulates six of the most common eye conditions in the UK – so that staff can gain a greater understanding of the needs and challenges for blind and partially sighted passengers. The airport is also trialling the aira app alongside easyJet, which enables blind and partially sighted passengers access to 24-hour support from an agent who can help passengers navigate their way around the airport via their phone.

Gatwick was also the first airport to introduce a ‘hidden disability’ lanyard, as a discreet signifier to staff that the person wearing it has a hidden disability and may need a little extra help. All major UK, and several international, airports have since introduced the lanyard, but Marchant pointed out “consistency is vital and whether it’s a sunflower or another symbol that’s used – it needs to be internationally recognised.” She also concluded that in order for the lanyards to be rolled out across all airports including the smaller regional hubs, and for services and standards to be consistent, “perhaps it’s time for government to get involved…”

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