Delivering Quality Customer Service to Disabled Passengers

Airport passengers

Samantha Saunders, Head of Innovation & Regulatory Compliance at OmniServ shares the first of five special insights for Customer Service Week.

Insight: Knowing your customer and how to deliver to them

At OmniServ, we deliver a wide range of services to a diverse group of customers in and around airports. But our biggest customer group – and the most important for a number of reasons – are people with mobility or other issues which affect their ability to move around or easily navigate the airport environment.

The industry, regulators and governments use the term ‘People with Reduced Mobility’ or PRM when talking about people with disabilities. PRM passengers are a growing segment of the travelling population. OmniServ provides assistance for around 1.8 million PRM passengers a year in the UK, 1.2 million of them at Heathrow alone. PRM doesn’t refer to just people in wheelchairs. The term also encompasses people with Autism, sight and hearing issues, and long-term medical issues such as the need for colostomy bags.

According to the UK’s Aviation Regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), growth in air travel across UK airports between 2010 and 2017 was 19%. However, the growth of passengers requesting assistance was 47%, meaning this is the biggest growing customer sector within aviation.

Globally, one billion people – that’s 15% of the world’s population – experience some form of disability, according to The World Bank Group. Between 110 million and 190 million experience significant difficulties.

With the increased need for special assistance services, airports face unique challenges. Flights have schedules and specific timings, they can be busy, fast-moving environments, but assistance provided to all passengers should respect their dignity and demonstrate genuine care.

Providing the right support for everyone is a challenge that requires collaboration. At OmniServ, we work closely with a wide range of organizations to ensure we understand the needs of our customer groups. Talking to our charity partners is vital. We currently work in partnership with Colostomy UK, Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People, and this week we are excited to announce our position as Founding Strategic Partner of the membership group #PurpleLightUp, a networking and professional development hub for disabled employees.

Employing people with disabilities is the right thing to do in an increasingly responsible, accessible and inclusive business world. But it’s more than just a moral imperative; it also is a logical move for us which strengthens our team. If we’re going to deliver the best possible experience we can for disabled passengers, then disabled employees can contribute particularly valuable skills and insights based on their personal experiences, including direct knowledge of travelling with a disability.

We’re also helped in our quest to provide the best possible customer service for PRM passengers by the many companies and organizations which are actively coming up with devices and technologies to solve issues affecting PRM passengers.

Some answers are ‘low tech’, but brilliant – like the ProMove sling, developed by a disabled doctor, which helps with issues around getting passengers from wheelchairs into aircraft seats and back again. Others are more tech-based, like the work we’re doing with SignCodeUK, which provides pre-recorded British Sign Language translations to help improve the customer experience These companies have dedicated time and funds in to developing specific products that address a facet of disability, so their insight always adds value to our understanding.

Most of us will experience the effect of disability in the course of our lives — whether we have a loved one with a disability, have our own disability or face one in the future. So, when we talk about PRM passengers, it’s important to realise that we are talking about people we know and love, or about ourselves in a few years’ time.

Other articles in this series:

About OmniServ

OmniServ Limited is the International Division of ABM Aviation, the aviation division of ABM Industries. ABM Aviation provides a comprehensive range of innovative and dependable solutions, including Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) Operations, to more than 100 airports globally. This includes the top 30 airports within the USA and 15 airports within the UK. Established in 2004, OmniServ employs over 5000 staff delivering ‘Legendary Service’ across a wide portfolio of aviation services.

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