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Accessibility of Airports to Disabled Passengers

Accessibility of Airports to Disabled Passengers
Author: Christine Damschroder
2 Commentries
Abstract:Research into Airports and their accessibility to physically handicapped individuals. Areas of improvement are included as well as personal experiences gained through primary and secondary research.

Key Words: Access, Accessible Tourism, Disability, Handicap Travel, Muscular Dystrophy


Discussion Paper:

There are many barriers for individuals who identify as being disabled, which makes airport access and navigation difficult (Sensalis, 2015). In order to understand this, first accessible tourism needs to be understood. Accessible tourism can most simply be defined as “travel that accommodates people of different abilities” (Campbell, 2016). In 2008 an estimate showed that roughly 20% of the adult population in the United Kingdom had some form of a disability (Department of Transportation). From 2006 to 2011 there was a 13% increase in the amount of wheel chairs being requested at airports (Lipp, 2015, 391).

According to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995, now covering only Northern Ireland, there are requirements set forth for businesses to follow so as not to discriminate against persons of disability. If these requirements are not met, either for all or part of a facility, it is the responsibility of the provider to remedy the situation. (The National Archives, 1995). Part three of this act covers goods, services, facilities and premises with an exemption for travel services. Not all forms of transportation are included within the exemption however, airports being one of them (Sentinella, 2006, i), holding them to a higher standard. The rest of the United Kingdom is covered by the Equality Act of 2010 (RNIB 2015). This combines a wider range of topics that had mostly been their own acts into one to provide equal opportunities for everyone, disabled individuals being one of the groups focused on.

Primary research was conducted for the purposes of the project to gain an insight on the opinions an individual with a disability has of airports. A one-on-one, semi structured phone interview was conducted. Steve, 54, suffers from Muscular Dystrophy (MD). MD is a disease that targets muscle groups and weakens them (Kalumuck et al., 2013). The type of MD that Steve has makes it particularly difficult for him to walk up and down stairs, lift heavier items, and walk long distances.

When asked if he felt discriminated against while in airports, the answer was a confident no. There was only once where he felt belittled because of his disability back in 2006. Steve emphasized that passengers and personnel alike understand that he has a disability, and are patient and helpful when needed. When asked if he felt any extra stress due to his disability when he was flying, Steve elaborated that, in reality, he felt it was less stressful for him to fly because of all the policies put in place to aid handicapped individuals through the airport.

In an interview on BBC Radio, Mic Scarlet said, “the concept of travel is still one that strikes the fear of God into us”, referring to disabled individuals as a whole, and his difficulties while flying (Miller and Scarlet, 2014). Employees will help the passenger have a comfortable and happy experience, and roughly 80% of disabled passengers were satisfied with the quality of service provided to them (Sensalis, 2015).
In his article, Lipp (2015) states that there are four potential areas for initiatives that can help. Technology (through research and development), fixed or built environment (the way the actual buildings are constructed), social and community responsibility (how the airport interacts with local disability groups), and training (Daniels et al., 2005). Improving in these areas would greatly aid in disabled passenger’s experiences while at an airport.

In July of 2006 Regulation (EC) 1107/2006 came into play. This was specific to protect the rights of disabled people traveling by air. All responsibility for meeting the disabled passenger’s needs rests with the airport (Nyman, 2007). A report published by the EasyJet Special Assistance Advisory Group (2012) outlines the responsibilities of the airport for disabled passengers. They are required to identify all areas within the airport that disabled passengers may need assistance in. Assistance should be available throughout the entire airport for both arrivals and departures. This includes boarding and disembarking from the plane, as well as wheelchair assistance by taking a passenger anywhere they need to go (EasyJet Special Assistance Advisory Group, 2012).

Each experience held by a handicapped individual is going to be different. Running themes from the research indicate that travel with a disability can lead to more stress, while in the primary research conducted for the report, it was found that the airports are so well set up to aid with accessibility that it relieves stress of travel.


Damschroder, C. (2016) Experiences at Airports [telephone call]. Conversation with S. Damschroder, 24 April 2016.

Lipp, E. (2015) What Creates Access and Inclusion at Airports?. Journal of Airport Management, 9(4) 390-397. Available from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.lincoln.ac.uk/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=a839589c-4f14-4dd1-af21-57b7e7a0d936%40sessionmgr4001&vid=8&hid=4113 [accessed 24 April 2016].

Sentinella, J. (2006) Access to Air Travel for Disabled People: 2005 Monitoring Study. Department for Transportation, Mobility and Inclusion Unit. Available from http://www.accessibletourism.org/resources/2_access_air_travel_trl_monitoring_en.pdf [accessed 24 April 2016].
Accessibility already established?
Author: Charlotte Riordan
I chose this paper as it is one of the predominant current issues in tourism, which I feel strongly about. It is estimated that 0.2-1.2% of all air passengers within Europe suffer with reduced mobility (Ancell and Graham, 2016), meaning that disabled access within airports is of prime importance. In the UK, people with disabilities receive special accessibility factors, as long as they ring the airport within 48 hours of their flight: “at European airports you have the right to: help at specific arrival points, such as at terminal entrances, at transport interchanges and in car parks, help to reach check-in, help with registration at check-in, help with moving through the airport, including to toilets if you need it.” (Direct.gov, 2015). This would help with any accessibility factors that may originally discourage people who suffer with a disability from traveling on a plane. This added help is a right for any persons who suffer with a disability, as they are protected by the equalities act of 2010.
I felt hat the primary researched conducted by the author has allowed for a deeper insight into disability accessibility. By focusing on one disability- here MS, the author has allowed an insightful look into the life of a disabled traveller. It is interesting to note that this particular traveller did not feel discriminated against because of his MS- reports have shown that this is not always the case. British Airways were recently scrutinised by the media for removing a passenger from a plane moments before take-off due to mobility issues, even though the passenger (who has cerebral palsy) had already boarded (Hutchinson, 2015). In order to improve this discussion paper, more primary research into the views of people who have a disability would be recommended in order to gather more information and show a representative voice.

It has to be commended that the author suggests areas for improvement within the industry. The identification of technology, fixed or built environments, social and community responsibility and training are generally good suggestions in order to improve the accessibility within airports. The primary evidence helped put a personal twist on what could have just been facts. Overall, this piece is well written and concise, yet covers a variety of points- making it an all-round interesting piece. I liked the range of sources, and how it represented all disabilities whilst still specifying one for primary research. Moreover, I enjoyed the use of the primary evidence to contradict what the BBC said. A good read all around.

Ancell, D. and Graham, A., (2016). A framework for evaluating the European airline costs of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility. Journal of Air Transport Management, 50, pp.41-44.
Direct.gov. (2015). Transport if you're disabled. Available: https://www.gov.uk/transport-disabled/planes. Last accessed 10th May 2016.
Hutchinson, J. (2015). Disabled passenger humiliated by British Airways staff when they removed him from a flight moments before take-off and 'made him look stupid' after last-minute decision not to let him fly. Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3195067/Disabled-passenger-s-shock-removed-BA-flight-minutes-staff-say-s-unfit-fly.html. Last accessed 10th May 2016.

Accessibility to Airports for Disabled Travelers
Author: Bethany Brookes Leech
There was a decision made to create commentary on this discussion paper as there is a real interest for myself with disabilities in tourism. Over 10% of the overall worldwide population, nearly 650 million people globally have a disability. With 70% of this market physically and financially able and wanting to travel (Luiza, 2010). This is a vast amount of people who want to travel that may not have the access to do so. The UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) applies to air travel in relation to the use of booking services, the airport facilities and services. The actual means of transport; the aircraft etc. (Department for Travel, 2008).

The policies and legislation used by the author allows the reader to understand how the disabled traveler is indeed supported. Although there are policies and legislation such as the Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 in place within the UK this may not be found when travelling abroad (Equality and the Human Rights Commission, 2015). The authors link to accessible tourism is interesting and shows great understanding of this concept. This similarly could have been linked to social tourism as it was created to offer people who have low income, or who are disadvantaged such as people with disabilities or the ageing population the opportunity to participate within tourism activities such as air travel.

The use of the primary research encourages the author to gain further understanding of the disability and how it can affect their travelling through airlines. With the use of this interview there was a link particular disability and the effects airports have on this individual. To develop the primary research, the use of more participants would offer a range of views and opinions about the barriers people with disabilities may face at airports. The use of the BBC interview and the use of other statistics within this section, highlights that the BBC radio may not in fact be a real insight into disabled travelers and this gives a great comparison.

The author highlights the barriers but also suggests research that gives initiatives to create a barrier free means to access airports. This shows that they have researched both areas in depth and offers resolution to the problems faced for disabled travelers.

The discussion paper overall is an easy read about disabilities and the accessibility they have when deciding to travel. The paper gives a number of views but explains that each disabled individual has very different experiences when accessing airports. It is a well-rounded discussion that highlights both arguments well. It shows detailed research throughout and was really well written.

Department for Transport (2008) Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility – Code of Practice. Department for Travel. 5-20

Equality and the Human Rights Commission (2015) The Human Rights Act. [online] Equality and the Human Rights Commission. Available from: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/your-rights/human-rights/what-are-human-rights/human-rights-act [accessed 11th May 2016]

Luiza. M (2010) Accessible Tourism- Ignored Opportunity. Annals of the University of Oradea. 1154-1156