App developed for visually impaired travellers using Heathrow

Thousands of visually impaired passengers who use Heathrow will have access to on-demand, personalised assistance via a new app from Monday.

The Aira app aims to enable travellers to enhance their independence at the London hub.

The app connects passengers direct 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 app can be accessed by pre-loading it on mobile phones and an agent will be available to provide guided assistance on demand on arrival at Heathrow.

Passengers can also pre-book special assistance through their airline and seek information on the app at the same time.

The number of passengers requesting special assistance at Heathrow is rising by about 8% a year, with more than one million requests in 2017 – more than any other European airport.

Heathrow is taking proactive steps backed by a £23 million investment into a revamped, upgraded contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ.

The airport last year introduced the use of a ‘SignLive’ app which connects passengers to trained British sign language translators on demand, before and after their travel through Heathrow.

The suite of new initiatives follows feedback by passengers and guidance from the Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group chaired by disability rights advocate Roberto Castiglioni.

The Civil Aviation Authority has acknowledged the steps Heathrow has made in improving its service for people with disabilities by restoring the airport’s ranking to a “good” following a “poor” rating last year.

The launch of the Aira app coincides with International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Airport customer relations and service director Jonathan Coen 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 £23 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.”

Heathrow worked closely with Guide Dogs for the Blind, whose engagement officer, Clive Wood, said: “Initiatives such as this will be of great benefit to many blind and partially sighted people who wish to travel independently.

“We certainly welcome the proactive approach being taken by Heathrow to introduce a range of information and support to disabled passengers including those with sight loss.

“We often hear from our clients that using all forms of transport can be a stressful experience. This is why we are working with Heathrow to help take the stress out of air travel.”

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