Gatwick airport has opened what it says is the first sensory room within a UK airport, as part of a new area for passengers requiring special assistance.

The North Terminal facility has been designed for passengers with autism, dementia, cognitive impairment and other special needs, offering “a relaxing, private and fully interactive environment to calm people who may feel overwhelmed in busy and unfamiliar airport surroundings”.

There are two zones – a chill-out zone with floor cushions, bean bags and digital display panels, and an interactive zone with tactile panels, textures and a game to improve memory and motor skills.

These include a Catherine Wheel Panel, with colour and sound displays including firework effects, a Sound to Light Showtime which converts sounds into “a dazzling light show of colours”, and an Infinity and Beyond Panel which produces visual and auditory effects using a range of shapes, sounds, patterns and speeds.

Departing passengers and their families or carers can book a 45-minute session via the special assistance desk after security.

The new sensory room is part of a lounge style area for travellers requiring special assistance, which opened earlier this year, with seating for up to 90 people.

Commenting on the news Maria Cook, Autism Ambassador for Gatwick Airport, said:

“I cannot thank the whole team involved in this project enough for making it a reality. Working closely with Gatwick I explained the vast benefits of having such a wonderful facility available and the positive impact it has for people with complex conditions and their families and they did not hesitate to create something very special indeed. It is the most amazing Sensory Room I have ever seen.

“To have somewhere like this to explore and reduce anxieties before boarding a flight for someone with Autism, Dementia, a learning difficulty to name but a few conditions, is so important for the person themselves, their carers and accompanying family and it could very well make the difference between someone actually getting on the plane or not at all because it had become too stressful.”

Earlier this year The Civil Aviation Authority published its annual report on accessibility services provided by the UK’s top 30 airports, in which Gatwick was rated as “needing improvement”.