On the 01 April, tangerine’s CEO Martin Darbyshire had the pleasure of speaking at the Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg at the roundtable discussion ‘Flying for All’. He was joined by panellists Zuzana Hrnkova, Vice President and Head of Marketing at ATR, Christopher Woof, a lobbyist for FlyingDisabled, Geraldine Lundy, Passenger Accessibility Manager at Virgin Atlantic, David Brown, Founder of AirlineReporter and Paul Priestman, Chairman of PriestmanGoode, discussing the subject of disability access in aviation.
Issues of how companies can better accommodate wheelchair-using passengers and PRMs (Passengers with Reduced Mobility) were discussed, with panellists giving suggestions of how the industry can bring positive change to improve travel for disabled flyers.
With evidence of an extensive market for people with disabilities who have disposable incomes to spend on travel ($21bn in the US alone according to Geraldine Lundy of Virgin Atlantic), there is not only a social obligation but also a commercial impetus for the aviation industry to refocus its efforts and provide a positive customer experience for its disabled passengers.
The discussion encouraged a dialogue about how we can collectively dismantle the direct and indirect prejudice faced by many disabled travellers, some of which might have a hidden disability, and how the aviation industry can create better solutions for all users. With Martin’s breadth of experience working in design across many sectors, he commented on the need to tackle the problem in total.
“Eliminating small pain points that negatively impact customer experience for PRM is not enough,” according to Martin. “Instead there needs to be a monumental shift in aviation and other sectors to improve the customer experience for every traveller, whatever their ability.”
Martin reflected on his experience in designing the ACTIV Walking Frame (1996) in collaboration with Central St. Martins. He identified that the success of the project came down to the careful consideration of the user experience. The whole process demonstrated that design for disability needs to be appealing, and not only functional.
“Aesthetic appeal and desirability are often overlooked when creating products for people with disabilities,” says Martin. “This, in turn, creates a poor customer experience in comparison to non-disabled users and affects the uptake of support aids.”
Panellist Christopher Wood gave the discussion a personal account of flying with disabled family members. As a lobbyist for The Flying Disabled, Wood provided passenger insights into the specific issues faced by wheelchair users. He pointed out that there are often times when wheelchair users get ‘shoved to the back of a plane’. He also stated the shocking statistic that “701 wheelchairs/scooters are damaged in aviation transit each month; it would be a lot different if those were 701 damaged legs!” exclaimed Wood.
Overall the panel discussion was a much-needed step in the right direction to enable people with disabilities to fly with ease and dignity. It was a great discussion, and we hope that is will act as a catalyst for positive change in the design of future transportation services.