Heathrow has released a free app to help visually impaired passengers navigate the airport.
Created by US-based firm Aira, the app connects users to a trained agent who can give directions and support by looking at the camera view on the passenger’s phone. The app can also provide real-time information on a flight status or gate changes.
It can be downloaded onto an Android or iOS device prior to arrival, and a live agent will be available on-demand at any point during the journey.
Heathrow said it welcomes 6,000 visually impaired passengers annually.
It added that the number of passengers requesting special assistance was rising by 8 per cent a year, with over one million requests made in 2017, more than at any other European airport.
Heathrow was rated ‘poor’ in the Civil Aviation Authority’s 2017 report on accessibility services, but moved up to ‘good’ this year.
Manchester Airport has been rated ‘poor’ for the past two years, while Birmingham, Gatwick and Stansted were all rated as “needing improvement” in 2018.
Heathrow said it has invested £23 million in a new contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ.
Last year it launched a ‘SignLive’ app which connects passengers to trained British Sign Language translators on demand.
The new Aira app launched on December 3, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Heathrow is the first airport connected to Aira’s network of agents outside the US.
The company recently launched an app for the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas that provides live visual descriptions of American football games.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have Aira available for travellers to Heathrow Airport,” said Suman Kanuganti, Founder and CEO of Aira.
“Heathrow serves more travellers than almost any airport in the world, and we’re excited that those travellers will now be able to access Aira on their journeys.”
Jonathan Coen, Heathrow’s director of customer relations and service, said: “We are transforming the assistance service we provide to our passengers and empowering them to be as independent as possible when they are travelling through Heathrow.
“We have already invested £23 million in an upgraded contract with our special assistance partner, OmniServ, and introducing new equipment, training and technology to help improve our service. Aira takes us one step further – and will deliver a better travel experience for the 6,000 passengers each year that would otherwise feel less independent and less prepared when they begin their journey via Heathrow.”
Advocacy group Guide Dogs for the Blind also worked with Heathrow on the project.
Engagement Officer Clive Wood said: “Guide Dogs are delighted to see the introduction of the Aira app at Heathrow.
“Initiatives such as this will be of great benefit to many blind and partially sighted people who wish to travel independently.
“We often hear from our clients that using all forms of transport can be a stressful experience. This is why we are working with Heathrow to help take the stress out of air travel.”