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.

ABTA offers top ten tips for holidaymakers

ABTA, a UK-based travel agent’s association, has offered its top ten travel tips to help Britons enjoy a trouble-free holiday when planning their summer vacations.

1. Check your passport in advance – Check the validity of your passport well before the travel date to avoid the extra expense of having to fast track the renewal. Also, many countries outside of Europe require six months validity after the departure date, failing which travellers may be refused entry.

2. Weigh your luggage – Weigh your bags before you leave home to ensure they meet the airline’s baggage allowance, thereby avoiding expensive supplements at the airport.

3. Tell your bank you are travelling – Banks are always on guard for fraudulent transactions, so if they do not know when or where you are overseas they may block your ATM card from overseas use.

4. Be aware of restrictions when bringing back goods on your return – Refer to the full list of what you can and cannot bring back from your holiday destination. If you are travelling outside Europe it is often illegal for you to carry back food-based goods.

5. Make your drinks last longer – Spirit measures overseas are generally more generous than in the UK, so save money and your liver by opting for a mixer rather than more alcohol.

6. Buy travel insurance – Avoid the possibility of high medical bills by taking out travel insurance. It might be of help to know that treatment for a broken leg in the US costs around GBP44,000.

7. Get vaccinated – When travelling outside Western Europe, North America or Australasia, it is advisable to consult a medical professional to receive all of the necessary jabs to protect against preventable diseases.

8. Lunch like the locals – On a holiday it always helps to adopt the habits of local people, especially when it comes to food.

9. Learn a few words in the local language – one of the most basic things to do, but it will be greatly appreciated by the locals.

10. Learn these travel tips before you go.

ABTA said that it expects 14 million Brits to holiday overseas between July and September this year. There is still availability for locations including Mallorca, Turkey and the Canary Islands.