Flying can be challenging if you have dementia, but it shouldn’t be impossible. In this 3 part series Unforgettable investigates how to make the experience easier for everyone. This week we reveal what are airports and airlines doing to help people with dementia?
Heathrow recently pledged to become the world’s first dementia-friendly airport. This means all 76,000 staff that work there will receive dementia training. John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive of Heathrow, said: ‘Our vision is to give passengers the best airport service in the world. Airports can be particularly stressful for passengers with dementia so we are delighted to be working with the Department of Health and Alzheimer’s Society to make sure that they get the support they need.’
The airport has launched a lanyard for people with ‘hidden’ disabilities to wear when travelling through Gatwick. It’s designed for conditions such as dementia or autism, and airport staff have been specially trained to recognise the lanyards and know that people wearing one may need more time, may struggle with instructions or may become agitated or upset.
You can pick up a lanyard from the one of the Assistance Reception areas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where these are so it’s ready and waiting for you when you arrive.
Gatwick also has special reserved seating areas for people with a disability, and two adult changing places – one in each of the terminals. They have an adjustable bed that lowers to ground level, a hoist and flexible wash basins, all located in a large wash room with full shower facilities.
When booking your flight, be sure to tell them you’re travelling with someone with dementia and they should be able to alert the crew operating the flight. A spokesperson for British Airways says: ‘We do our best to look after customers both pre-flight and during a flight, especially when we have been made aware of special needs. In the case of customers suffering from dementia, or similar cognitive impairments, we would encourage those passengers to travel with a companion, if extra care is needed during a flight.’
Virgin has updated its training programme and will be concentrating on hidden disabilities such as dementia and autism. They’ve produced a short video for all crew with some top tips of how to assist someone with a hidden disability – whether they know about it via a Special Assistance request or if the passenger hasn’t told them about their condition.
If Special Assistance know they will be able to check with the customer/family about the best seating arrangements and what assistance they need through the airport.
The company also provide information about dementia on their Accessibility Intranet page which is available to all crew and ground staff. A number of Virgin crew are dementia friends and some are dementia champions.
If you need Special Assistance, call 0844 412 4455
Each day, easyJet flies around 1,000 passengers requiring special assistance and in 2012 they established the easyJet Special Assistance Advisory Group (ESAAG) a committee of European experts to provide guidance and advice to the airline on the services they provide to passengers who require special assistance. The group is chaired by Lord David Blunkett and is made up of experts in disability issues and accessible travel. It meets regularly with easyJet managers to discuss the company’s proposals, best practice and emerging issues.
All easyJet crew receive special training in how to help people with dementia, using the Dementia Friends resources. They have a special assistance contact centre team who are also trained on these issues and will be happy to discuss the particular requirements of individual passengers.
They recommend that passengers with dementia travel with a person they know and who can give them confidence during the flight as well as in the airport. However, for those passengers who are travelling alone, they recommend that they let easyJet know of the situation no later than 48 hours in advance so that the appropriate assistance can be booked for them.
Assistance can be made available at both the airport of departure and the airport of arrival, including baggage retrieval. It is also vital that the cabin crew are aware of the needs of any passenger with dementia or memory loss so they can provide additional information or assistance.
Other airports and airline companies
Speak to the flight company or airport helpdesk if you can’t find any information on their website. Some countries are more dementia-aware than others, so the amount of support you could get may vary.