Accessibility of Air Travel for Passengers with Reduced Mobility: Results of Passenger Focus Group

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Conference Proceedings
Authors: Kay AtkinArun UlahannanPaul HerriottsStewart Birrell

Abstract: Air travel is reported in the UK as the most difficult form of transport to navigate for disabled people [1]. Disabled people are half as likely to have travelled by air than non-disabled people, with lower satisfaction, and poor flight experiences putting them off flying in the future [2, 3]. This study aims to explore the experiences when travelling by air of passengers with reduced mobility due to neuromusculoskeletal (NMSK) disability. This was a qualitative study using focus groups to explore passenger experiences. Four focus groups (two in-person, two virtual) were undertaken, until data saturation was evident. A targeted recruitment strategy was used with a subsequent snowball effect. Eligibility criteria requirements were to have travelled by air and have reduced mobility due to a NMSK condition. The focus group worked through the stages of the air travel journey. Focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed before thematic analysis was undertaken using NVivo. 15 participants (male=7, female=8) took part in the focus groups (7 wheelchair users, 4 mobility aid users, 4 non-visible). Key findings related to the visibility of disability, getting on/off the plane, communication between stakeholders and staff awareness. The most popular codes related to boarding and exiting the plane. Within this part of the journey several themes emerged; forgotten at the gate or long delays, first on-board policy not followed leading to lack of dignity, poor confidence in handling and transfer into the plane seat techniques, and unsuitable seat location or type. Delays were also strongly linked to the inability to access toilet facilities on board. Getting off the plane was also linked to anxiety about the safe return of mobility aids and potential damage. Staff awareness of medical devices (stoma, catheter bags, prosthetics) emerged as a theme during security with many participants reporting embarrassment and humiliation. The visibility of disability was raised in all focus groups with those without visible aids finding it harder to access assistance. In contrast, those with a more visible restriction such as a wheelchair expressed frustration at how they shouldn’t be treated differently. The difficulties faced by disabled passengers are complex and varied. Reported problems span over multiple departments involved in the journey from communication between organisations, physical infrastructure or equipment availability, organizational policy and training, through to the individual’s attitude/perception. A key finding is that each disability is individual, their needs differ and assistance needs to be responsive to this. Following on from this study, a questionnaire will be developed and shared with a greater participant reach to evaluate if these findings remain consistent across the target group. This will then enable targeted research focused on practically addressing the issues raised. 1.Motability, The Transport Accessibility Gap. 2022.2.Department of Transport, The Inclusive Transport Strategy: Achieving Equal Access for Disabled People, Department of Transport, Editor. 2018: UK.3.Department of Transport, Access to air travel for disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility - a code of practice. 2008.

Keywords: Accessible Air Travel, Disability, Airport assistance, PRM, Passenger Assistance

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1003842

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