February 13, 2019
We want every single customer to enjoy their time with us, but we also know that flying and travelling through airports can be a challenge, especially if you have a disability. That’s why we have a whole team of people dedicated to helping you fly comfortably and safely.
But what if your disability isn’t an obvious one? What if you have autism and find the bright lights and noise of the duty free shops impossible to deal with? Or you’re living with dementia and are confused by the signage at the airport? It can be hard to ask for help when your disability isn’t visible, so we’ve developed an inconspicuous way of letting our staff know you may need some assistance.
For customers with hidden disabilities, we’ve created a symbol that discreetly lets our people know you need a bit of help. It can be used at any point in your journey when, for whatever reason, you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed. The symbol can be downloaded from our website and either saved on your phone or printed out to have as an insert for your passport. You can also pick up the symbol as a card or pin badge at check-in.
Before travelling, anyone with a disability can talk to our Special Assistance team who will discuss your journey and what help you might need. This could be priority boarding, reserved seating, or arranging for an escort through the airport. Onboard, the team can also ensure that in-flight entertainment is provided for blind passengers, with some crew also trained in sign language. We can also arrange for anyone who isn’t sure about the whole flying experience to visit us at our training centre near Gatwick. Here we have airport check-in and aircraft cabin training rigs. Customers with disabilities can have a look around and familiarise themselves with the sights and sounds of flying, try out the seats and talk to experts who know all about flying with disabilities and can offer suggestions and advice to get around most problems. The aim is to put minds at rest and help you realise lifetime ambitions, visit distant friends and relatives and explore the world.
Anyone wearing a Virgin Atlantic uniform has been trained on hidden disabilities. Like all great ideas it’s actually quite simple and starts with ‘How can I help?’. It’s about listening, slowing down, keeping things quiet, offering assurance and being as accommodating as possible. For example, many airports are now introducing quiet routes through the departure lounge, and we can help you find the way. Onboard can also be an unfamiliar and stressful environment. Often just a kind word from our cabin crew will be enough to settle the nerves.
We were the first airline to introduce a scheme like this, which has been running for over a year now, and you’ve been telling us how much you love the discreet symbol and the caring touch of our people.
“We’re committed to giving all customers easier access to travel”
Behind the scheme is Geraldine Lundy, our passenger accessibility manager. Geraldine is on a mission to make travel as accessible as possible and spends her time trying to improve the flying experience for our customers with disabilities. She’s introduced special onboard seats for disabled children, entertainment systems for blind customers and now our new hidden disability symbol.
“We’re committed to giving all customers easier access to travel,” Geraldine said. “The Hidden Disabilities scheme is one of a series of initiatives that Virgin Atlantic is planning on introducing over the coming years, to help those with disabilities overcome any key challenges they may face.”
Tabitha Blackmore had dreamed of travelling to Disneyland in Orlando, but her autism meant she was incredibly anxious about flying. Her mum Katie spent two years working out how to make her dream come true and after a few practice short-haul flights she got in contact with our Special Assistance team who arranged for her to visit our training centre near Gatwick. Here Geraldine spent time reassuring Tabitha about her flight, let her sit in our mock-up cabin and answered all the questions she had. On the day, they used the hidden disability symbol to let our people know they might need help. The result was a smooth flight and, as these pictures attest, some lasting memories from a fabulous holiday in Orlando. So impressed were Katie and Tabitha they’ll be appearing on BBC Breakfast News tomorrow morning (Valentine’s Day) to talk about their experience.
Tom Morgan is a Welsh rugby player and sports ambassador for the National Autistic Society who recently won a legion of fans when he appeared on the TV show The Undateables. Tom struggles with Tourette’s, Asperger’s, dyspraxia and ADHD. These conditions mean that Tom doesn’t feel at home in everyday situations and it was stopping him from flying long distances. Following a visit to the training rigs, Tom was able to travel long haul under the scheme. “Geraldine and her team go above and beyond to ensure that your flight experience is tailored to your specific needs,” he said. “For instance, I asked if I could be sat at the back of the plane so that if I were to experience ticks on the flight, I wouldn’t disturb the passenger behind me. Virgin Atlantic easily accommodated my request, which made me much less nervous about the flying process.”
We’re always looking for ways to give you a top quality travel experience. That includes those of you who need a little bit of extra help. As Geraldine and her team have found out, it’s often a tiny gesture or a simple, caring word that can make a big difference and help make dreams come true.
To find out more, visit our special assistance page