Guest blog – Making airports more ‘user-friendly’

This blog was contributed by Seema Jain, a Designer and Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

In a recent visit to a London airport, we were shown how accessibility measures have been improved, ahead of the London Olympics, in an attempt to meet the needs of those passengers with reduced mobility. Although it is crucial to consider the needs of these passengers, many of whom are older travellers, it has brought to light the need to include the needs of older passengers specifically.

Certainly not all older passengers would consider themselves as a passenger with reduced mobility, but some may still require assistance with the complex and sometimes tiring task of travelling by air. The following suggestions aim to consider the needs of passengers who do need assistance and in doing so provide useful recommendations for passengers of all ages.

Five key recommendations for airports:

  • It would be beneficial for airports to provide paper maps of the layout of their terminals, highlighting the key services such as toilets (and accessible toilets), food outlets, accessible seating areas, information desks and passenger assistance points so that those passengers who require assistance upon entering the airport can locate these services quickly. The airport could even go one step further to provide this information as an app which is contextual (i.e. provide the airport layout depending on where the passenger is located). Airport layout maps can be a tool utilised by all passengers, especially those who are unfamiliar with the airport.
  • Airports and airlines should attempt to steer away from using the term ‘Special Assistance’ as this could be taken to mean that those passengers who require assistance are ‘out of the ordinary’. Instead passengers should be able to take advantage of a service which provides a seamless experience and without highlighting their need for ‘special’ help. For example, an alternative name such as ‘Extra Assistance’ may be better suited and would still highlight the availability of accessibility services in airports.

  • Accessibility services should not be only marketed as a service for passengers who are ‘disabled’ – many airlines explain their accessibility services as for those passengers who are mobility impaired or disabled. Not all passengers who require assistance through an airport are disabled. Some older users who tire easily or with health issues, for example, may require the service if there are long distances to walk to reach their gate.
  • Airports should provide distance and walking times for how far each gate is from different parts of the airport terminal. Providing passengers with walking time only is not suitable for all as everyone walks at a different pace.
  • Not all passengers will request assistance before travelling or may not even realise they need it, especially if they are unfamiliar with the airport. Ensuring that the mobility assistance within the airport is available throughout the airport departures, terminals and arrivals areas is vital to allow passengers to engage with the service when and where they require it.

Read Age UK’s Top 10 tips for flying comfortably and Travel Planning advice.

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