Gatwick Airport: Aviation special assistance done right!

Because I’m registered blind, I sometimes use transport provider’s assistance services, particularly when travelling through places I’m unfamiliar with. I recently had a poor experience with booked assistance travelling from a UK airport, but I’m determined to keep this blog upbeat so I wanted to write about Gatwick, who on two flights in May did a superb job.

I booked my assistance for my two flights – one to Palma De Mallorca, and one to Manchester, through my airlines (TUI and British Airways respectively). They then made arrangements with Gatwick Airport to assist me through the terminal and onto my flights.

The first thing I liked about Gatwick’s special assistance service was the variety of ways you could meet it. There’s a special assistance reception desk, telephone call points in useful places like the bus station and taxi drop off, or you can be met from check-in. Generally speaking I’m OK getting into the terminal itself, so I met my assistance at the check-in / bag drop.

They have a dedicated assistance and family lane at security, which is really useful. Several airports I have used have this, but Gatwick’s felt more separated and spacious than elsewhere. I also like how you can skip the Duty Free shops when being guided through, which most passengers are forced through after security. For me as a person with a visual impairment, this meant fewer wiggly paths to negotiate, but I can imagine skipping this area being even more helpful for a customer with autism to avoid the noise, bright lights and strong smells of the shops.

In the departure lounge, there is a reserved seating area for customer’s using the special assistance service, and this also has a staffed information desk and departure screens. And now my favourite part… you don’t have to sit there! When I travelled through an airport in Northern Ireland earlier this year, my guide dropped me off in Starbucks and said they’d meet me there in two hours’ time. I felt like I couldn’t leave. What if they couldn’t find me? What if I came back and there were no vacant tables to sit at any more? Gatwick Airport give you a lanyard with a pager on it, and then you’re free to do as you wish (in my case visit Wetherspoon for breakfast!) and it will bleep, vibrate and flash when its time to go back.

When I was collected, I was taken to the gate in a buggy (a bit like a golf cart). I believe this is optional, but I prefer it. In unfamiliar places I ask to be guided by arm, but airports are huge so to get to gates that are far away this can take a long time.

When at the gate I was able to board before everyone else which gave me time to meet the cabin crew, be shown to my seat, receive a personalised safety demo, and get belted up and comfortable.

This is exactly how my assistance went for both trips, and it was superb. Much better than other UK airports I have used this year. Its also great to see how keen Gatwick are to further improve the service, as I was surveyed about my experience while I was there too. If you’re disabled and nervous about flying, don’t be – there’s help available and Gatwick are doing it right.