This year has seen the publication of two reports on the state of PRM services at UK airports: the CAA (British Civil Aviation Authority) published the « Accessible air travel: Airport Performance report 2015/2016 » while OCS, the PRM service provider familiar at many UK airports including Gatwick, released its « Airport Experiences » report on « How disabled people actually feel about the service they receive ».
Each report is a carefully researched take on the current state of affairs of PRM services in the UK. They show steady progress has been made while they highlight complementary ways of improving the situation for all concerned: PRM passengers, airlines and airports.
The OCS report was based on the views of 534 disabled people gathered over 2015. It can be found on www.challengingforchange.com. As a result, it powerfully projects what PRM Passengers actually feel about the service they have experienced at UK airports.
It highlights several facts that are not widely known: frequent PRM flyers tend to report steady progress in service quality over the years and confidence when travelling. Conversely, PRM passengers who travel rarely are often not aware of the correct booking process and show a « worryingly (high) lack of confidence in the PRM Service » when about to travel. Strikingly, many PRM passengers still don’t know that they must inform their airline 48h before departure.
The first priority for airlines, according to the report, is to get more passengers to pre-book assistance. Another priority it suggests is the need to educate staff to handle Electronic Mobility Aids without damaging them and to create clear guidelines on how to handle them with care. OCS makes 9 practical proposals to improve the PRM passenger experience at UK airports, from dealing with assistance dogs effectively to improving PRM passenger waiting areas as well as communicating with them more proactively during their journey inside the airport (e.g. by SMS to update them on their boarding time).
The CAA report, though it doesn’t so squarely take the perspective of PRM passengers, does provide interesting aggregate figures on their experience. Of the 2,7 Million PRM passengers who travelled in the UK in 2015, 85 % were satisfied (including 59 % « very satisfied ») while 15 % were less that satisfied. It makes the encouraging discovery that satisfaction levels have gone up by 10% over the ten years since Regulation EC 1107/2006 was introduced. This performance is all the more positive when one realizes that the number of PRM passengers went up by 40 % over the period and that crowded airports are a challenge to quality PRM services : the infrastructure isn’t growing anything as fast as the number of PRM Passengers, making the job of taking PRM pax to and from their aircraft more – not less – challenging.
The main initiative the CAA is backing to improve matters further is the adoption of its proposed regulatory PRM performance framework by a growing number of airports. The idea is to « get all UK airports to set, measure and report on their performance against a range of measures relevant to the assistance service.” The framework is supposed to help travelers understand what to expect, thereby reassuring them, and holding airports to account if the assistance level isn’t at an acceptable level.
The CAA has split 30 UK airports into four groups according to their PRM performance level: « Very good », « Good », « Taking steps » and « Poor ». The largest airports in the first category that includes ten airports, are Manchester and Newcastle. Gatwick, Stansted and Liverpool were included in the « Good » list which comprised 7 airports. The largest category, « Taking steps to improve performance », included 12 airports, of which Heathrow was the largest. The « Poor » category included one airport, Edinburgh, that has since improved quite significantly after several changes occurred: Omniserve took over from Amey in January while the airport raised the tax earmarked for PRM services from 18 pence (the lowest in the UK at the time) to 28 pence, which is the UK average.
Overall, it is clear that the fundamental movement in favor of continually improving PRM service levels begun with the introduction of groundbreaking EU regulation a decade ago has achieved a great deal. This is good news for PRM passengers who can travel much more easily and with growing confidence – provided they are informed. It shows the efforts made by airports, providers, airlines have been significant and made a sizeable impact.
The CAA’s article can be found on http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/modalapplication.aspx?appid=11&mode=detail&id=7499
One wonders, now that the « low hanging fruit » have been picked, what it will take to produce further gains in the number of very satisfied customers who account for just over half of the 2,7 million PRM passengers a year of the total (59 %). Better information and standardized PRM processes from airport to airport will buy further improvement. But making further large gains – and keeping them – in a market that, at current growth rates, stands to double every five years, will now depend on the large majority of airports raising their game to the high performance level set by a few. This will require putting into place modern PRM management systems based on comprehensive traceability, a solid real-time visibility on the aggregate PRM situation at the airport and optimal machine-assisted PRM job dispatching. The years ahead are sure to be exciting!