Gatwick Airport’s accessibility promise is paying off

Navigating an airport can be tough on any day, for anyone (especially this summer). But for passengers with disabilities, visible or not, travel through terminals and on an airplane is often much more difficult.

The good news is that airports around the world are making progress in their efforts to make their facilities more inclusive and accessible, with everything from special help desks and assisted wayfinding services to the new simulated aircraft cabin installed in terminal 1. in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport which invites passengers with autism and other travel challenges to practice before flying.

Some airports try harder than others. But on its website, London Gatwick Airport (LGW) goes all out, saying: “We aim to be the most accessible airport in the UK, giving everyone an equal chance to fly.”

That’s a high bar and a big promise for any airport. But on a recent site visit, we found Gatwick lived up to this one.

Today, there are hundreds of airports around the world that offer and adopt the Sunflower or Hidden Handicap program.

The system identifies a lanyard wearer as someone who might need or appreciate extra help or consideration when walking through an airport or other public space.

The lanyards have a sunflower on a green background, and Gatwick Airport was the first airport in the world to adopt the scheme, in 2016.

Since then, thousands of passengers needing a little extra help in terminals have used the scheme, RGN learned during its tour of Gatwick’s accessible facilities.

In the United States, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) was the first to adopt the Sunflower lanyard program, in 2019.

Dozens of US airports are now part of the program, including Denver International Airport (DEN), which added it in May 2022, and Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), one of the largest recently joined in July.

A green thong with yellow sunflowers sits on a carpeted surface.

Airports around the world are adopting the sunflower lanyard program. Image: Harriet Baskas

Gatwick Airport offers staffed special assistance reception areas in its North and South Terminals.

These quiet lounge-like spaces provide a quiet and comfortable waiting area for people who may need assistance checking in or getting to their door. And users receive pagers that light up, play a sound or vibrate when it’s time for them to meet the customer service representative who will show them to their door.

Special assistance sign at Gatwick Airport indicating various services in the space.

Special assistance area at Gatwick Airport. Image: Harriet Baskas

Sensory rooms, such as Presley’s Square at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), which debuted in 2019, is another piece of equipment that is popping up at many US airports. Gatwick opened its sensory room in January 2018 and was the first airport in the UK to offer this equipment to travellers.

Sensory rooms are designed for passengers with autism, dementia or cognitive impairment who could benefit from a calm, quiet, safe and entertaining space to spend time before travelling.

Gatwick’s Sensory Room in the North Terminal features cushions, beanbags and colorful digital display panels. The room must be pre-booked, is used by one family at a time and is cleaned between uses.

Dad and child in a sensory room at Gatwick Airport

A man and his child use the sensory room at Gatwick Airport. Image: Harriet Baskas

RGN stopped by the Sensory Room at Gatwick during our tour of accessible facilities and met a father who had booked the room so his young son could calmly prepare for a day of flying.

“It’s the first time we’ve used the sensory room and it makes all the difference,” he told RGN. “We actually live closer to Heathrow airport, but in future we will always make the extra effort to travel through Gatwick due to its accessible features.”

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Featured image credited to British Airways

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