British Airways to trial new technology to help travellers in using British Sign Language

British Airways has recently said that it has become the first UK airline to trial a new video service transforming the experience for customers that use British Sign Language (BSL).

The initiative is being trialled as part of the airline’s efforts to make travel simple and easy for customers with additional assistance needs. The airline’s new partnership with SignLive will see the company’s BSL service embedded in British Airways’ customer engagement centres. The platform allows customers to access a range of services before, during and after their journeys.

British Airways customers will now be able to contact the airline through SignLive’s Community Directory where the team can assist with: providing information and support about their journey; responding to general customer service queries; booking flights; pre-booking seating and providing permission for service dogs to travel in the cabin.

Commenting on the new trial, British Airways’ Head of Sustainability, Carrie Harris, said: ‘It’s important for us to mark International Day of People with Disabilities, because before the pandemic, almost half a million customers who required additional assistance flew with British Airways each year and we’re focused on supporting customers with both hidden and visible disabilities to make their journey easier and stress-free.

‘In 2019 we invested in a new specialist accessibility team and as part of our broader focus on sustainability, diversity and inclusion, we are proud to be working with SignLive to make it as easy as possible for our customers using British Sign Language to receive the support they need. We hope to roll this technology out permanently as part of our unique British Airways’ service.’

Joel Kellhofer, CEO at SignLive said: ‘By introducing our service, British Airways will be making air travel much more accessible to the UK’s Deaf population. We welcome any strides to improve inclusion and accessibility, and this is a huge step forward by such a well-known brand. We are happy that British Airways have chosen SignLive to support their customers.’

In 2018, British Airways launched its ‘Beyond Accessibility’ campaign, the airline’s largest global accessibility training programme, which includes a new library of digital learning providing information about hidden disabilities and practical advice on how to support customers at each stage of their journey. In 2019, the airline created a dedicated team of accessibility experts to assist with customer enquiries, and as a result British Airways saw customer satisfaction levels more than double for travellers with accessibility needs.

British Airways also became the first and only airline to be awarded an Autism Friendly Award by the National Autistic Society and is the first airline to produce a Visual Guide to Flying to help customers prepare for their flight.

London Heathrow launches new Aira app for visually impaired passengers

Heathrow Airport has announced the launch of the Aira app that will benefit nearly 6,000 visually impaired passengers that travel through Heathrow each year.

Starting December 3, visually impaired passengers at Heathrow will have access to on-demand, personalised assistance via the Aira app. The launch of the app coincides with International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed by the United Nations since 1992 to empower the one billion people in the world that have some form of hidden or visible disability.

Available free of charge, the app will connect passengers directly to a trained professional agent for advice on navigating through Heathrow and assist with finding specific locations – including gates, special assistance facilities, retail outlets and restaurants. It will also provide live information on news affecting their journeys.

The move comes as the number of passengers requesting special assistance at Heathrow is rising by approximately 8% each year, with over one million requests in 2017 alone. Heathrow has been taking proactive steps to transform the service it provides for these passengers, supported by a £23 million investment in an upgraded contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ. Last year, the airport launched the use of the ‘SignLive’ app, which connects passengers to trained British Sign Language translators on demand, before and after their travel through Heathrow.

Jonathan Coen, Director of Customer Relations and Service at Heathrow, said: ‘We are transforming the assistance service we provide to our passengers and empowering them to be as independent as possible when they are travelling through Heathrow. We have already invested GBP23 million in an upgraded contract with our special assistance partner, OmniServ, and introducing new equipment, training and technology to help improve our service. Aira takes us one step further – and will deliver a better travel experience for the 6,000 passengers each year that would otherwise feel less independent and less prepared when they begin their journey via Heathrow.’

The Aira app can be accessed by pre-loading it on mobile phones and an agent will be available to provide guided assistance on demand upon arrival at Heathrow. Alternatively, passengers can also pre-book special assistance through their airline and seek information on the app simultaneously, Heathrow said in a release.

Bristol Airport introduces assistance card to help passengers with hidden disabilities

Bristol Airport has announced the introduction of a hidden disabilities assistance card as part of its efforts to improve the airport and travel experience of passengers with hidden disabilities.

Designed to be the size of a business card, the hidden disabilities assistance card serves as a discreet sign to airport staff to identify passengers in need of support and assistance as they travel through the airport. The card can be handed discreetly to airport staff along with the passenger’s boarding pass or passport.

The special assistance card, which will be introduced by March-end, advises airport staff on any additional needs of a passenger, such as needing more time to process information, or extra assistance in reading departure boards or flight information. The card also encourages airport staff to use clear language when giving instructions. Airport staff are also informed that passengers carrying a card may need to remain with a family member or companion at all times.

Bristol Airport has worked with OCS Group, the special assistance provider at the airport, and local Dementia, Autism and Alzheimer charities in developing the card in addition to the lanyard scheme. The OCS Group also worked with Thumbs Up World Limited to produce a small colour booklet containing useful information for passengers with hidden disabilities using Bristol Airport. The booklet provides a clear guide on what to expect at the airport with photographs of each area including check-in, security, retail and catering outlets, boarding, arrivals and baggage reclaim. The booklet also contains space for passengers to record their own specific needs or any questions they may have along with emergency medical and contact information.

Phil Holder, Bristol Airport, said: ‘We are delighted to work with OCS and listen to feedback from families and various charities in the development of the hidden disabilities special assistance card. For families it will remove and reduce some of the stress knowing that staff are aware and understand the challenges they may face.

‘The booklet will also be a great help to families and provides information in advance of their visit and allows the family to complete the booklet together not only before they visit, but during their time at the Airport also.’

All airport staff in customer-interface roles have been given a full training and awareness programme in preparation for the introduction of these new initiatives on March 31, 2017.

The hidden disabilities assistance card, lanyard or booklet are available on request at the OCS special assistance desk in the main terminal prior to check-in, the airport said.