I’m incredibly fortunate to sometimes be invited out to events that interest me with my hobbies once in a while that also interlink with work. Today was one of those days, when I got an email two or so weeks ago inviting people to join them for a Stansted Airport PRM (Passengers with Restricted Mobility) Day, undertaken with Omniserve. The idea of the day is for you to ask questions, have a poke about and discover what the airport is able to offer a customer who needs a little bit more help than where their gate might be.
So, with my passport and a bit of information about where to park, I went off for the day. Meeting everyone at the terminal assistance desk, we were ably led by Bruce and Sheila (see the naming policy) through to security, armed with visitors passes and our passports.
I’ve only been through security once at Stansted before and the last time was at about 7:00, half asleep. So this was quite a good experience for me. A male security guard gave me a good check over in a thorough and efficient manner whilst making sure the airport was not at risk. It took all of 5 minutes or so and I was through and free to collect my camera, phone and laptop.
We moved through the newly laid out retail and restaurant areas – there is a lot of work going on at the moment, all evidence of the huge investment of over £80M by the Manchester Airport Group. Sheila and Bruce took us along to stand 50, where an ambi-lift (think – box on the back of a truck with scissor lift) was waiting… along with a Boeing 737-800, courtesy of Ryanair.
Bruce showed us how the ambi-lift process worked. Provided by Omniserve (a contracted service provider), the system enables passengers who are PRM to access the plane from the terminal. Usually a passenger is assisted out on to the apron, where the ambilift has a tail lift to raise the passenger to access the “box” on the back of the truck. The box then lifts and a front “bridge” extended to the aircraft. Whilst in the box, you transfer to an aisle chair and then are lifted into the cabin.
The whole process can be done in minutes and has a variety of tools available, including hoists, slings and transfer boards to help a customer get on the plane.
After the aircraft, we went through the arrivals process, looking at the route in through arrivals and exiting on to the forecourt.
Two hours has now passed – a lot to take in already. A short break and then we had some presentations from Bruce and Clive from Omniserve as well as Mick from Manchester Airport Group. It was rather interesting, learning that about 20% assistance requests are ad-hoc every month, for example. Clive, who leads on the training programme for Omniserve, made it clear that the Social Model of Disability is at the core of the Equality Awareness Training. He made no bones about not having all the answers, citing the need to keep relevant and use outside sources to improve and expand their training. It was also very evident that the training goes beyond a wheelchair or person having no vision. It’s customer focused, knowing about both visible and hidden disabilities, including mental health and learning disabilities. It was incredibly refreshing to hear someone ‘get it’ without having to be prompted to churn out the answers like a machine.
Mick then presented on behalf of Stansted. He gave a true and frank explanation of some of the challenges faced when looking at improving the facilities on offer. It was good to hear that the first consideration is not always the cost – inconvenience when replacing existing solutions, meaning customers may have a longer journey from point to point, for example, takes a central focus. Wayfinding is a huge issue and has been centralised to remove the mix of signage as well as the development of a Wayfinding Strategy. He also made it clear that although 80% of the existing issues were resolved, there was a hunger to get the other 20%. Growing their market is crucial to their business strategy and to do that, it needs to be 100%.
Answering honestly and clearly, I really valued this Q&A session. It wasn’t just lip-service – it was an open forum for potential and existing customers to learn, share and discover – building confidence to go and have positive experiences in the air.
If you get the chance to go and see one – I’d recommend it.