Airports want to provide the best service they can for their passengers, ensuring a smooth, enjoyable, seamless experience for everyone.
However, for travellers with a disability, such as vision impairment, wheelchair users or those with sensory sensitivities, it can be a stressful experience if their needs are not considered.
People with a disability make up an increasing proportion of travellers, taking 1 million domestic trips in Australia, representing 19% of total trips annually.
This amounts to a spend of $3.2 billion annually in Australia. But research shows many more would travel if it were more accessible.
One US study on airport travel revealed that among adults with disabilities who travelled by air, 72 per cent encountered significant obstacles with airlines and 65 per cent with airports.
Wayfinding in airports is a major barrier to equal access and inclusivity for passengers with disabilities. The vast distances between terminals, congested spaces, and a shortage of accessibility features can hinder their ability to navigate independently and add stress and anxiety to their travel experience.
A survey of air travel passengers in the US highlighted the importance of effective wayfinding for airports. Respondents reported ‘ease of wayfinding’ inside an airport ranked No. 1 out of the top 10 most important features of their passenger experience. But when asked to describe the best part of their airport experience, ‘ease of wayfinding’ ranked last.
The survey shows that while wayfinding, specifically accessible wayfinding, is critical to the passenger experience, it has often not received the attention it deserves and presents a major opportunity for improvement in many airports.
This post will outline the 5 benefits of accessible wayfinding in airports and how that improves the passenger experience.
1. Less reliance on staff assistance
Most airports meet the wayfinding needs of passengers with a disability by providing additional staff to help guide or assist travellers. While this is a valuable resource, airport employees may only sometimes be available to assist, as their focus is on other operational tasks, including security, check-in and ensuring on-time departures. Lack of staff resources can lead to delays and inconveniences for passengers with disabilities.
Integrating accessible wayfinding, such as wayfinding apps & digital maps to help passengers with a disability navigate airports, relieves some of the resourcing needed to assist those who need help finding the amenities or other locations.
In turn, airport employees can dedicate their time to helping passengers with more complex or greater accessibility needs.
2. Enhancing Independent travel
For passengers with a disability who are used to independent travel on local transport, depending on staff assistance at the airport may undermine their independence and autonomy. Some will prefer to manage their travel experiences on their own and will search out tools and resources to help them plan their journeys.
People with hidden disabilities may also prefer using trusted digital tools such as apps or pre-planning resources when travelling through airports rather than reaching out for staff assistance.
Wheelchair users, for example, will often navigate independently and need to be able to locate wheelchair accessible routes where they differ from the general path of travel – such as escalators and lifts – as well as accessible facilities such as parking, restrooms, charging stations, etc.
Enabling a passenger to navigate independently by equipping them with an accessible wayfinding app allows them to control how they receive information that best meets their needs – such as via audio, text, map, or wheelchair routes. This also allows them to quickly find what they need and where to go without waiting around for assistance, ensuring passengers with a disability move around the airport freely and with dignity.
3. Clear information and directions
Although signage, such as Braille, that complies with accessibility standards may provide some benefit, additional solutions are needed to help passengers with disabilities travel independently in airport environments. Static directional signage is not very useful for someone with low vision and, for wheelchair users, may not be at an appropriate height.
Expanding airports and operational disruptions can also result in signage quickly becoming outdated and inaccurate.
Furthermore, airport volunteers at information booths may report to customer service, while those who assist at ground transportation information counters have different experiences and knowledge. As a result, inconsistent information may be shared with passengers, resulting in confusion and frustration.
Digital wayfinding tools such as accessible wayfinding apps incorporate clear and concise instructions. Unlike static signage, these apps are dynamic, and routes can be easily updated to direct passengers to temporary locations during airport redevelopment or other disruptions.
Knowing where to find check-in counters, security checkpoints, restrooms, and gates can make the journey smoother and more manageable for all passengers.
4. Reduce the risk of missing a flight
Better wayfinding can significantly reduce airport late arrivals by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the travel experience for passengers. Passengers with a disability may take longer to navigate the airport, so usual ‘time to gate’ signs and information provided for an able-bodied passenger may not be accurate for someone using a guide dog or wheelchair.
When passengers can easily navigate the airport, find their gates, and reach their destinations within the airport, they are less likely to encounter delays or late arrivals. Integrating a planning tool, such as a digital web map on an airport website, can help passengers plan their arrival ahead of time, learn which routes are accessible and better understand how big the airport is so they can manage their journey more effectively.
Digital maps that provide passengers with straightforward, accessible directions to gates, baggage claim, customs, and other facilities are essential.
5. A seamless passenger experience
Navigating an airport can be a disjointed experience for many passengers, passing through various terminals, levels and customer service support. People with a disability are assisted by airport staff prior to check-in, but once they receive their boarding pass and have passed through security, they are often under the responsibility of airline employees.
As a result, people with disabilities are at risk of not having a cohesive experience in an airport.
Providing passengers with an accessible wayfinding app enables them to experience a seamless wayfinding journey, taking them from curb to gate in the palm of their hands. No matter where they are in the airport, they can follow their journey from start to finish.
Airports are often judged by the quality of the passenger experience they offer.
Whether travellers are on vacation or on a business trip, satisfaction plays a crucial role in shaping their perception of the airport and the destination it serves. Accessibility resources, such as indooraccessible wayfinding apps, reflect an airport’s commitment to passenger well-being, as well as a long-term economic benefit.
Travellers are more likely to feel positive about their experience, regardless of any disabilities they may have. It empowers them to travel with confidence, knowing that the airport is designed to accommodate their needs and provide the necessary information and assistance.