Heathrow airport to transform the assistance experience

Heathrow airport to transform the assistance experience



Image: Heathrow airport, passengers inside the terminal


Heathrow airport has announced that disability campaigner, Helen Dolphin MBE, and the experienced equality and inclusion regulator, Keith Richards, have both been named as new co-chairs of the Heathrow Access Advisory Group (HAAG). Accessible travel consultant, Geraldine Lundy, will be supporting both Helen and Keith in the role of vice-chair of the HAAG, working with the independent group to ensure that accessibility and inclusion is always at the forefront of Heathrow’s agenda.



The Heathrow Access Advisory Group (www.haag.org.uk) remit is to act as Heathrow's critical friend as well as promote accessibility and inclusion. Featuring well-known disability advocates, the HAAG has had a prominent role in Heathrow's new wayfinding concept, the revision and improvement of disability awareness training protocols for security staff, and constant monitoring of service quality output. The HAAG is now focusing on promoting accessibility and Universal Design in Heathrow's expansion plan.


The members of the HAAG will oversee over £30 million worth of investment in new equipment, resources and technology such as the cutting-edge Navilens technology that Heathrow is working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to trial. Navilens works by using a system of bespoke markers and a powerful detection algorithm to guide visually impaired passengers through the airport, empowering them to travel independently. The trials are set to begin in early spring.  

Helen Dolphin MBE is a campaigner who is committed to improving transport for disabled people. Helen who is disabled herself, will be bringing a wealth of experience to the role and also serves as a member of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) consumer panel. Helen also works as an independent mobility specialist, advising professional bodies on how to improve accessibility. In 2015, she was awarded an MBE by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, for her campaigning work on behalf of disabled motorists. 

Keith Richards specialises in self-regulation, equality and inclusion consumer rights and set up the Consumer Panel at the CAA before serving as its Chair for six years until 2017. Keith is also currently a board member at the consumer watchdog, Transport Focus, as well as Chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) at the Department for Transport.

Geraldine has worked in the aviation industry for over 20 years, enabling people with disabilities to fly as safely and comfortably as possible. During her years working for Virgin Atlantic she influenced the airline to introduce accessible in-flight entertainment and training customer facing colleagues to assist passengers with hidden disabilities. In 2019, Geraldine became an independent consultant and has provided services and advice to airlines, airports, aviation industry bodies and people with disabilities.

To further strengthen Heathrow’s own Customer Relation and Service Team, Sarah Charsley, has also been appointed to the newly created role of Head of Assistance Service Transformation and will be working closely with the HAAG to transform the airport’s assistance offering. Sarah has worked at Heathrow for over a decade and has played a key role working with multiple stakeholders to transform the baggage operation.


Heathrow Customer Relations and Service Director, Liz Hegarty said: “We’re really looking forward to working with the new team to continue to improve and co-create the future of our assistance services - for those travelling with us today, and the passengers who will fly through an expanded Heathrow in the future. The new team are all very passionate about making Heathrow accessible and inclusive for all and their energy and expertise will prove invaluable for the airport and our passengers as Heathrow kickstarts its decade of delivery.”


In 2019, Heathrow began trialling a new assistance provider in Terminal 5. This trial is being launched ahead of a full re-tender of the service for implementation at the end of 2020, which aims to help the airport achieve its vision of being rated “very good” in the CAA’s annual airport accessibility ranking by 2022. The airport has also rolled out distinctive ‘sunflower lanyards’ which have helped many passengers with hidden disabilities to feel supported when flying.


Assistance at Heathrow: Passengers that have disabilities or mobility difficulties requiring assistance should contact their airlines or Heathrow at special_assistance@heathrow.com