What makes Gatwick Airport autism-friendly?

This week is World Autism Awareness Week, and we are proud to serve customers of Gatwick Airport, which is the UK’s first autism-friendly airport. Read on to find out exactly what that means and how Gatwick works to make travelling through its facility easier for people with autism.

Travelling can be extremely difficult for people with autism. For many, this is down to the unknown – not knowing what to expect from a situation can cause stress for people who have autism.

So what does Gatwick Airport do to help?

Hidden disability lanyard

Not every disability is visible to the outside world, and many people don’t want to have to disclose their situation to everyone they encounter in daily life. The hidden disability lanyard was created to offer those in this situation, for example people with autism, the chance to communicate their hidden disability silently to those around them.

Gatwick Airport staff are specially trained to recognise and understand that people wearing the hidden disability lanyard may require extra support or assistance as they travel through the airport.

Anyone with a hidden disability can ask for a lanyard. Simply visit one of Gatwick Airport’s Assistance Reception Areas – there’s no need to notify staff of your requirement ahead of time, although if you do require specific assistance on the day of your journey, it’s always best to get in touch to explain your needs ahead of time.

The hidden disability lanyard scheme has been so successful that it will now be rolled out at other airports.

Visual airport guide

Gatwick Airport has created an autism-friendly visual guide to help people with autism travel through the airport. The guide explains the airport process in a series of images with descriptive text, to let people know exactly what they can expect when they arrive and travel through. It is designed to help people become familiar with the airport and its facilities, to avoid any unexpected situations.

Download the guide here.

Autism ambassador

Gatwick Airport appointed its first Autism Ambassador in 2016. Maria Cook is the mother of an autistic child and chair of Autism Support Crawley. Since 2016, she’s been working with Gatwick Airport to promote its autism-friendly initatives and generally make the airport an accessible and welcoming place for everyone.  

Airport Autism Champions

Gatwick has also appointed Airport Autism Champions, whose jobs it is to train frontline airport staff to enable them to support and assist autistic passengers.

Airport Autism Champions are specially selected staff members who undergo regular training so they can roll out initiatives across their teams and ensure frontline staff are able to implement projects and behaviours widely across the airport. This ensures that all staff are able to help autistic passengers, as well as their families and caregivers.

About the autism-friendly award

Speaking at the time of the autism-friendly award being given to Gatwick Airport, The National Autistic Society Chief Executive Mark Lever said:  “Autistic people and their families want to access the same opportunities others often take for granted, and this includes holidays and travel. But many rely on routines to make sense of an often confusing world and can find the busy and unpredictable airport and flight environment distressing and disorientating.

"So we are delighted that Gatwick Airport has put so much effort into improving this situation and have achieved our prestigious Autism Friendly Award.  What particularly impressed us is the care they continue to take to incorporate the feedback of autistic people and their families to help improve the service they offer to them and other customers with hidden disabilities. Helpful guidance and information specific to the needs of autistic travellers is available on their website and Gatwick staff will receive our autism training.

This means that at every stage of the flight process, from check-in to boarding, staff will be aware of autism and will be able to offer appropriate support and advice.

“We hope that many more major airports will follow Gatwick’s inspiring example.”

Gatwick Airport Chief Executive Stewart Wingate said: “We recognise airports can sometimes be a stressful environment for autistic passengers, but that simple steps can go a long way in helping to break down barriers and make it easier for autistic passengers and their families or caregivers to travel through Gatwick.  

“This award is recognition of the fantastic efforts of many of our staff, volunteers and valued partners like the National Autistic Society, and signifies our ongoing commitment to ensuring Gatwick is an accessible and welcoming environment for the 42 million passengers who use the airport every year.”