Gatwick becomes UK's first Autism Friendly airport
Gatwick has become the UK's first Autism Friendly airport in recognition of the airport's commitment to becoming an accessible and friendly environment for autistic passengers.
The airport was presented with the award by The National Autistic Society’s Chief Executive at a ceremony to mark the achievement.
The award recognises the successful efforts of Gatwick and its assistance provider OCS to meet a range of Autism Friendly criteria which will benefit autistic passengers, their families and caregivers, including:
- ensuring clear and accessible information is available for autistic passengers about the airport and the assistance available to help plan and prepare for their journey
- a commitment to staff training so that staff are better able to assist autistic passengers
- the successful roll out of new initiatives like the discreet hidden disability lanyard, which is to be rolled out at other UK airports
- the introduction of Autism Champions who will be trained to roll-out further front line staff training.
More than one in 100 people in the UK are autistic. The National Autistic Society’s Autism Friendly Award recognises organisations who commit to making sure that autistic visitors receive the same warm welcome as everybody else.
Gatwick recognises that travelling through a busy airport can be a challenging experience for autistic passengers and those with sensory sensitivities and that simple steps can make a big difference.
To coincide with the award, Gatwick has also appointed Maria Cook as the airport’s first Autism Ambassador. Maria is the parent of an autistic son and as Chair of Autism Support Crawley has worked closely with Gatwick to promote Gatwick’s hidden disability lanyard and other initiatives aimed at making Gatwick more autism friendly.
The National Autistic Society Chief Executive Mark Lever said: “Autistic people and their families want to access the same opportunities others often take for granted, and this includes holidays and travel. But many rely on routines to make sense of an often confusing world and can find the busy and unpredictable airport and flight environment distressing and disorientating.
"So we are delighted that Gatwick Airport has put so much effort into improving this situation and have achieved our prestigious Autism Friendly Award. What particularly impressed us is the care they continue to take to incorporate the feedback of autistic people and their families to help improve the service they offer to them and other customers with hidden disabilities. Helpful guidance and information specific to the needs of autistic travellers is available on their website and Gatwick staff will receive our autism training. This means that at every stage of the flight process, from check-in to boarding, staff will be aware of autism and will be able to offer appropriate support and advice.
“We hope that many more major airports will follow Gatwick’s inspiring example.”
Gatwick Airport Chief Executive Stewart Wingate said: “We recognise airports can sometimes be a stressful environment for autistic passengers, but that simple steps can go a long way in helping to break down barriers and make it easier for autistic passengers and their families or caregivers to travel through Gatwick.
“This award is recognition of the fantastic efforts of many of our staff, volunteers and valued partners like the National Autistic Society and signifies our ongoing commitment to ensuring Gatwick is an accessible and welcoming environment for the 42 million passengers who use the airport every year.”
Andy Boyd, Managing Director Aviation and Gateways, OCS Group UK said: “OCS are delighted to be working with Gatwick to help them deliver such a great initiative. It has been a good team effort and the Autism Access Award is a testament to the commitment shown by all.”
A spokesperson for the CAA said: “For passengers with hidden disabilities, which includes autism, the thought of travelling through a busy airport can be stressful and confusing, and knowing you will also have to go through security checks, can add an even greater level of anxiety.
“The more information, reassurance and bespoke services airports can offer this group, along with their travel companions, will help ensure passengers can enjoy air travel.”
Gatwick’s newly appointed Autism Ambassador Maria Cook said: “I have been amazed by the care and commitment of those involved in helping to make Gatwick Autism Friendly who are passionate and motivated about making a real difference.
“As a parent of an autistic son, having dedicated support available makes a huge difference, helping to relieve stress and anxiety so that we can focus on enjoying our journey.
“As Gatwick’s Autism Ambassador I look forward to working with Gatwick and OCS to continue the good work already achieved.”