London Gatwick Airport has been recognized as the UK’s first Autism Friendly airport following its efforts to create an accessible and friendly environment for autistic passengers. The National Autistic Society presented the airport with the award at a ceremony to mark the occasion.
The Autism Friendly award recognizes the successful efforts of Gatwick and its assistance provider OCS to meet a range of criteria that will benefit autistic passengers, their families and caregivers. This includes 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; and the introduction of Autism Champions who will be trained to roll out further front-line staff training.
To coincide with the award, Gatwick has appointed Maria Cook as the airport’s first Autism Ambassador. Cook is the parent of an autistic son and as chair of Autism Support Crawley has worked closely with Gatwick to promote the airport’s hidden disability lanyard and other initiatives aimed at making Gatwick more autism friendly.
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.”
Mark Lever, chief executive, The National Autistic Society, 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 it continues to take to incorporate the feedback of autistic people and their families to help improve the service it offers to them and other customers with hidden disabilities.
“Helpful guidance and information specific to the needs of autistic travelers is available on its 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.”