Accessible air travel

Last summer we asked Aberdeen Airport if we could come along and talk about Upstream’s work. We thought we might get a few people together - a group of 25 or so interested staff turned up. There was clearly a lot of interest and Sarah from the local Alzheimer Scotland office was asked to come back to run several dementia friends sessions.

So, when airport staff invited people to visit as part of Disabled Access Day we were delighted that Alzheimer Scotland's Positive Dementia Group agreed to come along. We're keen to find ways to bring people affected by dementia together with mobility service provider staff and this was an excellent opportunity.

We caught the Jet Bus from the city centre to the airport which was a smooth journey although people noticed that the road layout had changed recently and the bus stopped in new, unknown places. We thought it would be good to have announcements to tell us where the bus was stopping and maybe how far we were away from the airport.

We were met with a warm welcome from Kevin and Fraser, airport duty managers, along with four of their colleagues - two from security, one from ground handling and an airport ambassador. After a chat, introductions and some stories about air travel we took a walk from check-in through security and on into the departure lounge.

Along the way we learned about the process, what happens behind the scenes, the assistance available and how to access it. We exchanged ideas and stories, heard about good and bad experiences and learned some good tips:

  • If you’re having problems with online check in and you want to do this ahead of your flight you can come into the airport days before your flight to confirm and reserve seats

  • There are assistance phones in the car park - call the terminal from there and someone will come and help with luggage, check in etc

  • If you’ve requested assistance you can use the self check-in machines and then head straight for customer service desk to drop your bag and ‘check in’ to passenger assist.

  • There’s an assistance point just beyond the check-in area with dedicated seats and staff on hand to help

  • Airport ambassadors are available throughout the airport - just ask for help!

Going through security I experienced that anxiety of being separated from my belongings...albeit for a very short time. We learned that a person living with dementia can go through the the security detectors very closely followed by their companion - there’s no need to be separated. And then on through to the departure lounge to look at signage and check out the new seats set aside for people needing extra assistance.

Back in the meeting room we compared notes and thoughts. Everyone appeared to have learned something. People commented how good it was that we were sat around a table talking about the issues. Someone thought that, having learned more about the assistance available, maybe they would consider flying again. Others who were flying soon had learned about some extra help they could get. All very positive.

So what next? We’ll be interested to hear about the future flying experiences of the group and it would be great if we could do more collaborative work like this with more airport staff in Aberdeen and elsewhere. We want to facilitate more opportunities like this - bringing people together to consider travel challenges in a real context, experiencing services and learning together.

A huge thanks to Kevin, Fraser, Steph and other staff involved in such a positive experience for all.