Accessible Travel Spells Excellence At Virgin Atlantic
- Written by Roberto Castiglioni
Traveling by air with a disability is becoming increasingly popular, hence the need for airports and airlines to provide high quality accessible travel services.
A recent visit to Virgin Atlantic Airways headquarters located near London Gatwick airport presented the perfect opportunity to interview the airline's Passenger Accessibility Manager.
Operating a fleet of 34 wide body aircraft to 42 international destinations, Virgin Atlantic has been making significant investments aimed at promoting inclusion and accessible travel in air transport.
Geraldine Lundy is Virgin Atlantic's Passenger Accessibility manager. She was the host of Reduced Mobility Rights recent visit of Virgin Atlantic Airways cabin crew training facilities. One of Geraldine’s roles is the disability awareness and support process training of cabin crew.
As we tour the premises we fully appreciate her passion, professionalism, and compassionate dedication to promoting inclusion and accessible travel. The definition of "the perfect person for the role" suits Geraldine Lundy. Finally we get the opportunity of interviewing her.
Q. Geraldine, what made you decide to become Passenger Accessibility manager for Virgin Atlantic Airways?
A. I’ve worked in the airline industry for over 14 years with a background in Medical Services. This experience showed me that any passenger with additional requirements, whether they are accessibility or medically based, relies on their airline to get it as right and stress free as possible throughout the whole customer experience. When Virgin Atlantic advertised this new role I was keen to apply as it was an opportunity to have a positive impact in every area for our customers with disabilities.
Q. Can you briefly explain which tasks fall under your direction/control/responsibility?
A. Our customers interact with us at every part of their experience, so my role covers every area which impacts on a passenger who has a disability. This varies from advising on the accessibility of our website, the training of our staff, design of our aircraft to the equipment on board. Another part of my role is to raise any potential risks and non-compliance with senior management to keep the airline as compliant as possible. Finally, I work closely with my colleagues in other departments, such as Legal and Government Affairs, to lobby external agencies / departments to make the airline industry as accessible as possible within a realistic achievable framework.
Q. Do you recall a specific request impossible to accommodate?
A. We very rarely receive requests that we cannot assist with. However, we are occasionally asked if we will carry assistance animals (not dogs) in the cabin. But as a UK carrier, operating under our CAA we only carry trained assistance dogs.
Q. Reduced Mobility Rights follows the work of MERU charity with keen interest. Could you briefly share your professional experience with TravelChair?
A. Virgin Atlantic has used the original TravelChair for many years to assist children with accessibility or medical needs to travel safely and comfortably. As more and more children are travelling these days we desperately needed to add to our stock and were actively seeking a similar support aid. We were thrilled to hear that MERU were developing a new TravelChair and are very proud to have played a part in assisting them as they certified the TravelChair with the CAA and EASA. We donated the use of our rigs and a member of staff to facilitate the development of the CAA International Training video for the TravelChair. We also conducted several trial flights where families used the new TravelChair to fly long-haul. The new TravelChair was such a success that we have purchased 22 to add to our existing stock.
Q. Overall, do you think Virgin Atlantic efforts to promote inclusion are meeting intended targets?
A. Yes. However, there is always room for improvement. Occasionally, as with any customer, we don’t deliver what we should or what they expect. However, we do monitor every incident and use every issue to ensure we make it better in the future.
Q. Is there something, if anything, you would like to change in the way the aviation industry handles disabled passengers?
A. I was gently challenged when I asked early on in my role the question “How could we (Virgin Atlantic) better manage our disabled customers?” It was put to me that instead of asking “How could we better handle our non-disabled customers” an airline would be asking questions such as “How can we give our passengers a better customer experience”. They suggested that for disabled customers, we should be thinking “How can we better support disabled passengers”. It’s a very small change in words but a huge change in focus and attitude. I’d like to see everyone in the aviation industry - airports, regulatory authorities, airlines, aircraft manufacturers etc., engage with and listen to our customers to learn how we can support them better.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni is an expert consultant of PRM regulations, access services, and disabled passengers’ support procedures. He has personal experience as travelling partner of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of the Disability Working Group of the Civil Aviation Authority. He is also a member of the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group. Chaired by David Blunkett MP, the independent advisory group esaag provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance.