For people around the world, going to the airport is the exciting beginning to a long awaited holiday; however, for autistic passengers entering an airport can be far from exciting – it can be extremely stressful. On 3 November 2016, Gatwick Airport was recognised as one of the first Autism Friendly airports in the United Kingdom because of the steps taken to ensure that every autistic passenger feels more comfortable during their time in the airport. Many don’t know that more than 1 in 100 people in the United Kingdom are autistic and The National Autistic Society Autism recognises those organisations who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the lives of those with autism. With guidance from the National Autistic Society, Gatwick officials have taken steps to assist autistic passengers, their families and caregivers such as:
1. Implementing a discreet ‘hidden disability lanyard’ system which enables staff to identify and assist autistic passengers,
2. Introducing Autism Champions who will continue to train and advise the Gatwick staff about properly caring for autistic passengers,
3. Ensuring that information regarding travel is clear and accessible so that autistic passengers might be able to plan future travel.
During National Autism Awareness Week in April 2016, Gatwick hosted fifty autistic children and their families at an event which introduced the children atmosphere of the airport. Introducing the children to the airport allows the children to become more comfortable with the layout and route of the airport because many autistic people find new and unfamiliar environments overwhelming.
In addition to accepting the Autism Friendly Award, Gatwick also marked the occasion by appointing the airport’s first Autism Ambassador, Maria Cook, who is the mother of an autistic son. The appointment was made in the hopes that Gatwick will improve over time with feedback from autistic passengers, their families and caregivers.
As Gatwick becomes one of the first airports in the United Kingdom to be awarded as Autism Friendly, there are hopes that other airports in the United Kingdom will follow suit by implementing policies which make travel for autistic passengers more comfortable.
A video produced by The National Autistic Society featuring Gatwick can be viewed here.
We hope that all airports in the United Kingdom will implement similar commendable schemes so that all air passengers can enjoy the excitement to fly away.
© Chambers of Lawrence Power