Advancing Accessibility in Air Travel: ACI World’s Collaborative Approach

Jean-Sebastien Pard by Jean-Sebastien Pard | Apr 18, 2024

Jean-Sebastien Pard, Senior Manager, Facilitation, Passenger Services and Operations at ACI World, discusses accessibility in air travel.

Talking about accessibility in the air travel ecosystem involves a collaborative approach between all aviation partners to provide a seamless and barrier-free experience for travellers with disabilities and/or with mobility restrictions.

As demand for assistance grows with the return of more passengers in these post-pandemic times, the industry needs to find innovative ways to assist and meet everyone’s needs. This demand is further fueled by aging populations in key air transport markets and this trend is likely to continue. Aviation, like many other customer-facing areas, is struggling to find the required level of resources needed to enhance the overall air travel experience for this important demographic.

This is why communication is key between the passengers and all the aviation stakeholders involved in the travel chain. Such dialogue facilitates understanding of travelers’ requirements, ensuring access to a safe, reliable, and dignified travel experience for all.

ACI World is committed to building a more accessible and inclusive air transport system. This commitment encompasses the design of accessible airport infrastructure, services, and amenities, as well as the pursuit of inclusive passenger journeys.

In recent years, world airports have made important progress in the field of accessibility, but some challenges and barriers remain. With 2024 designated as the Year of Facilitation at ICAO, ACI World takes the opportunity to continue to bring airport accessibility forward and make air travel more inclusive.

ACI World activities in airport accessibility

ACI World and airport members recognize that people with disabilities and those with reduced mobility require a focus on the design of accessible airport infrastructure and an inclusive passenger journey.

Our organization works with accessibility advocacy groups and international partners to develop resources and best practices aimed at assisting airports in eliminating barriers to air travel.

Amongst the initiative, ACI World has launched the Accessibility Enhancement Accreditation Program, now more than one-year-old, and includes a growing network of more than 36 airports. The program provides a continuous path of improvement for airports around accessibility. It is designed to help measure, evaluate, and improve airport accessibility management and culture. So far, 16 airports have been accredited by ACI World and more airports are on the path to becoming accredited.

In addition, ACI World offers customized advisory services to airports seeking further assistance. This personalized service helps airports achieve their specific goals and requirements while considering their available resources.

Furthermore, in 2024, ACI World is working on updating its Airports & Persons with Disabilities Handbook. This revised edition aims to incorporate the latest best practices and recommendations for establishing barrier-free infrastructures and aiding passengers in need.

Finally, the ACI World Global Training program provides high-quality, comprehensive training solutions to enhance the skills of airport professionals. Members can access instructor-led classroom sessions and self-paced online courses covering aviation topics, including accessibility and customer experience standards.

Identify and remove the barriers to travel

Air travel is a complex ecosystem that includes various players, located in multiple countries with their regulations. The pressure is high and involves time-sensitive processes to deliver on-time performance. Safety and security are vital, and every airport is different with its own business model, constraints, and opportunities.

Physical, technological, informational, systemic or attitudes are some of the barriers that prevent passengers to an accessible airport experience. Barriers also occur when the environment prevents physical access for some people with disabilities. For example, a lack of a sloped ramp for passengers with reduced mobility, or discriminatory treatment towards people with disabilities.

Considering these barriers, it is more effective to understand the specific disadvantages faced by individuals with disabilities when they encounter obstacles in their environments.

We believe these area are priorities to improve the passenger journey:

  • Access to accurate information on services and amenities ahead of the travel, to reduce anxiety and ensure customers are well-prepared in advance.
  • Facilitate communications between passengers and the airport staff throughout the journey to reduce misunderstandings, and potential issues, while ensuring empathy and respectfulness in all actions.
  • When possible, increase a person’s independence and autonomy, giving the person all the tools, information, and decision opportunities rather than relying on assisting only.

ACI World will collaborate with airports that are members of the ACI World Facilitation and Services Standing Committee to develop a survey aimed at helping airports understand the needs of their customers with disabilities and health conditions, thus enabling them to meet those needs more effectively. The survey will focus on travelers with disabilities, as well as parents, guardians, or caregivers of individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions.

The goal will be to identify the limitations or restrictions that impact the customers’ ability to travel by air and identify the main reasons why individuals may have refrained from or reduced their air travel frequency. Our wish is to enhance the interactions between the passengers, our airport members, and our aviation travel and tourism partners from all regions.

Access to transportation for all individuals

People with disabilities and reduced mobility form a large and growing proportion of the world’s population. Despite this, they continue to face barriers to their participation as equal members of society, including barriers to their free movement.

From temporary to permanent disabilities, encompassing speech, vision, and hearing impairments, as well as communication and mobility limitations, there is a significant and growing need for accessible travel.

Ensuring equal access to air travel is simply the right thing to do, from an ethical standpoint and a business model perspective.

ACI World and its airport members are fully committed to building a more accessible and inclusive air transport system. This commitment extends to enhancing independent and convenient travel for people with disabilities, elderly travellers, and those with mobility restrictions.

Learn more about Year of Facilitation at ICAO

In 1949, the ICAO Council first adopted Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) on Facilitation, designating them as Annex 9 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention, 1944). The Council, taking note that the Annex 9 had been adopted 75 years prior, reaffirmed the importance of facilitation, and in doing so, approved 2024 as the Year of Facilitation in recognition of the milestone anniversary for Annex 9. This anniversary presents an excellent opportunity for ICAO to collaborate with its Member States and the aviation community to highlight the significance of air transport Facilitation and the necessity for global awareness and implementation of SARPs in Annex 9.

Annex 9 — Facilitation is considered one of the most diverse Annexes to the Chicago Convention, as it comprises a wide variety of topics related to aviation that are multidisciplinary and linked to other Annexes. The Facilitation Panel (FALP), established in 1995, plays a critical role in the accomplishment of the Annex 9 Programme’s priorities, as it helps to ensure that Annex 9 is kept current. The 13th Meeting of the Facilitation Panel took place in Montreal between 26 February to 1 March 2024.

Some of the recent developments in Annex 9 include a strengthening of the regulatory framework on assistance to aircraft accident victims and their families, and work on implementation of Assembly Resolutions A41-15: Accessibility in International Civil Aviation, A41-16: Development and implementation of facilitation provisions —combatting human trafficking, and Resolution A41-17: Consolidated statement of continuing ICAO policies related to facilitation.

Jean-Sebastien Pard

Jean-Sebastien Pard

Senior Manager, Facilitation, Passenger Services and Operations, ACI World
Jean-Sebastien provides guidance and support to the airport community on a wide range of activities linked to the processing and clearance of aircraft, people, and goods. He also leads the development of best practices, implementation strategies, and initiatives in the areas of passenger process improvements and simplified passenger travel solutions.
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