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Heathrow Enhances Service for Passengers with Hidden and Visible Disabilities

18 December, 2017

Heathrow today announced a multi-million pound package of investments and tools to improve the travel experience of passengers with disabilities and mobility restrictions at the airport.

  • Airport and airline partners invest £23 million in new contract with partner OmniServ to improve passenger service for those living with disabling conditions or mobility restrictions
  • New services launched include lanyards for passengers with hidden disabilities, new specialised signage to identify special assistance areas, and an on-demand service for British Sign Language translators
  • Revamped service offerings launched as airport officials met with charities, and members of its new public disability advisory group ahead of the busy Christmas travel period

The number of passengers requesting special assistance at Heathrow is rising at approximately 8% annually, with over one million requests in 2017 alone more than any other European airport. Following a report by the Civil Aviation Authority this year, Heathrow is taking proactive steps to transform its service for these passengers, backed by an investment of £23 million in a revamped, upgraded contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ.

Heathrow announced today the introduction of a distinctive lanyard that will allow passengers that need tailored help and support to discreetly identify themselves to Heathrow staff. This lanyard is part of an established service initiated at Gatwick and rolled out in other UK airports, and is supported by leading UK charities including the Alzheimers Society, the National Autistic Society and Action on Hearing Loss. Special assistance staff, security officers and passenger ambassadors at Heathrow have been trained to identify the lanyard so they can provide additional assistance, or allow passengers wearing it more time or space as they travel independently through the airport.

Also today, Heathrow announced further changes it has made following passenger feedback, including new signage across the airport which displays the United Nations new symbol of accessibility. Starting this month in Terminal 3, special assistance signage will be a distinctive blue, and easier for passengers to identify as they make their way around the airport. The airport also promoted a new on demand app that is being used by passenger ambassadors and special assistance providers across Heathrow to access trained British Sign Language translators on demand to assist deaf passengers travelling through.

The suite of new initiatives follows feedback by passengers and guidance from the airports disability awareness group. Chaired by disability rights advocate Roberto Castiglioni, the Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group has been set up to help Heathrow deliver its vision to become industry leading in regards to accessibility and inclusion. The objective of the HAAG is to provide independent advice and constructive and considered challenges and bring a consumer perspective into Heathrows decision-making and planning processes. The airport hosted this group, and invited local students from Nescot college, themselves living with disabling conditions, to the airport to learn about the improvements the airport has made.

Jonathan Coen, Director of Customer Relations and Service at Heathrow said:

Heathrows vision is to make every journey better, for every single passenger. We need to do more when it comes to our Special Assistance service and we hope the investments and changes we are announcing today will go a long way in helping our passengers feel more welcome and at ease when travelling through our airport. We will keep working with our partners to deliver a better experience and the high standards of service our passengers deserve.

Roberto Castiglioni, Chair of Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group said:

This is a great day for passengers at Heathrow and we were proud to have been a part of ensuring the airport takes concrete steps towards being a more accessible and friendly space for people living with disabling conditions. We have more work to do yet and we look forward to working with Heathrow to keep on improving the journeys of all.

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said:

I am delighted to see for myself how Heathrow has improved the experience for those with disabilities or restricted mobility at their airport and to hear that they are constantly striving to do more.

It is important to acknowledge not all disabilities are visible, thats why the Governments draft Accessibility Action Plan contains proposals to improve access for people with conditions like dementia and autism. Our final plan, which will be published next year, will consider responses to our action plan consultation as well as other ideas, such as what I have seen at Heathrow today.

Antony Marke, Group Managing Director of OmniServ, said:

OmniServ is delighted to have the opportunity to continue working with Heathrow. The emphasis here should be on the word passengers rather than on the PRM label. All passengers deserve to be treated with respect as they journey through the airport, no matter their personal status. We have been working closely with leading disability rights groups to ensure our training is up-to-date with current thinking and that we have the skills and tools to help anyone who finds the airport or flying a daunting prospect, whatever the reason.

Notes to Editors:

About Heathrow:

Heathrow is Europes largest airport and one of the worlds top international aviation hubs. As the UKs global gateway, Heathrow welcomes more than 76 million passengers every year with a commitment to making every journey better. The airport is home to more than 80 airlines and is Britains largest cargo port, helping to drive British trade growth by connecting the nation to more than 190 destinations around the world. Following an investment of more than £11 billion over the last 10 years, Heathrow is currently ranked by passengers as the ‘Best Airport in Western Europe for the third year running and the Best Airport for Shopping for eight years in a row.

About Special Assistance:

Passengers that have disabilities or mobility difficulties requiring special assistance should contact their airlines or Heathrow Special Assistance at

About SignLive:

A video with details on how SignLive works is available here:

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