Blind and visually impaired passengers at Gatwick can now receive 24/7 guidance through the airport from trained agents by using the camera on the mobile phone.
The free, on-demand service can be accessed via the Aira app on a smart phone. Users will be put through to an agent, who will use live footage from the camera on the passenger’s mobile phone to guide them through the airport, help them read documents and flight information, shop, or find their bag on the luggage carousel.
Once downloaded, the Aira app can also be used to get up-to-date information on the passenger’s individual journey plans such as flight details and onward connections, or to read menus in restaurants, as well as prices and offers in shops.
During the trial period, passengers will not be required to register with the app in advance and can sign on as a “guest” when entering the airport. Users who have specialist Horizon glasses can also use these to feed video to Aira agents.
Gatwick says the system is being trialled for six months in partnership with Easyjet, which is helping to fund testing Aira to improve accessibility for blind or partially sighted passengers.
According to the airport, 12,000 passengers a year notify Gatwick that they are blind or visually impaired.
Lord David Blunkett, chair of Easyjet’s special assistance advisory group, commented: “This is a great experiment and innovation which I know over time will be life-changing in terms of providing equality to passengers with no or little sight. This extremely ground-breaking technological breakthrough will allow the partnership between Easyjet and Gatwick to demonstrate, for future use across airports here and across the world, just how a simple app and addition to an iPhone or other similar technology can make such a difference.
“I know from my own experience that it will take a bit of technical expertise but also just how liberating this could be, both for those who just need a little extra help as well as for those passengers who want to complement the wider assistance available with an independent solution that they can use themselves.”
Chris Woodroofe, COO of Gatwick airport, added: “Airports are complex environments and this new system helps to give blind and visually impaired passengers more independence so they can more easily relax and enjoy their time at Gatwick. We have an ambition to be the UK’s most accessible airport and we are looking to do this by investing and innovating and by putting the needs of every passenger at the heart of our operation. Ultimately, we want to make sure that everybody has an equal opportunity to fly.”
Gatwick is also working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to ensure the appropriate processes and services in place to help blind and visually impaired passengers at the airport.
Marc Powell, strategic relationships executive at RNIB, said: “We know that an airport is a challenging environment for lots of people, let alone blind and partially sighted people. We are pleased Gatwick are proactively looking at potential solutions to aid and assist passengers and look forward to hearing people’s feedback about Aira.”
The Aira app can be downloaded here