UK Airports are failing deaf passengers

The holiday fun starts when you set foot inside the Airport. That is, for most people.  If you’re a deaf passenger, it’s not always that easy.  In July this year, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) published an interesting report. It highlighted that Birmingham, Gatwick and Stansted Airports failed to meet the expectations specifically for serving customers with a hidden disability.

The report, entitled ‘Supporting people with hidden disabilities at UK airports’, also noted that Manchester Airport ranked ‘poor’ for the second year in a row.
Well, I guess you could say 4 out of 30 airports not conforming to guidelines isn’t THAT bad. At least, that’s what I thought until I decided to undertake some research of my own.


The key requirements for Airports under this guidance are:

  • Hidden Disability training for staff
  • Consultation with disability organisations
  • Accessible information to be provided before travel
  • To improve signage, wayfinding and the routes available through an airport


But what differentiated the airports that ranked ‘very good’ and ‘good’? Well, they’d implemented a number of things already, such as lanyards that identified passengers with hidden disabilities; and they’d rolled out enhanced disability awareness training. They had also consulted with disability organisations.

However, it’s only when you take the actual customer journey as a deaf passenger that the real story starts to unfold, and you can see how UK airports are failing.

Any person, whether deaf or not, would go online when considering a journey. So that’s what I did.

I discovered you’re immediately bombarded with terminology that has no relevance to a deaf person or someone with hearing loss. Words such as hidden disabilities, special assistance, or PRM filled my screen (I later found out this stands for Passenger with Reduced Mobility).

On some of the airports’ websites, I managed to find a page entitled ‘Special Assistance’, which at first glance looked promising. But I found myself scrolling through paragraphs of information to find anything at all that related to my queries.

Another website suggested that if you need assistance, you should look for the Information Desk but didn’t explain why or what assistance you would receive when you got there. Others asked passengers to make a call to ask for help.

I also found some videos and thought they’d explain things more clearly. However, all the videos I found had no ‘burned-in’ subtitles. Instead, they relied on YouTube’s own closed captions, which contained typos such as ‘peanut brittle’ and the word ‘errors’ instead of the airport!


You can start to put together a picture of what’s happened here


Airports have been asked to place a focus on a wide range of passengers with hidden disabilities, something they are failing at currently. They haven’t broken down the specifics of the many different disabilities some face. As a result, there’s a massive lack of focus on the passenger’s entire experience.

Ideally, those involved in the passenger journey at an airport should sit around a table and start to understand deaf customers’ needs when undertaking a journey. If they did, they would make different decisions for sure. Those decisions would lead to a much more inclusive and appropriate outcome as they’d all have a deeper level of understanding of the customer’s needs.

The largest passenger group with hidden disabilities is made up of deaf people and those with a hearing loss. This group makes up a total of 11 million people across the UK. Yet the least effort has been made to serve and support these customers.
It’s apparent airports still have a long way to go before they provide an entirely smooth experience for deaf passengers. I’d suggest the online experience is a good place to start to make a big difference for the deaf customer experience.


Check out the story in our January 2019 Newsletter!