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Travelling without borders

24.10.2016 at 06:00
This year, 40,000 passengers with reduced mobility are expected to request assistance as they make their way through Helsinki Airport. What services are provided for them?

Assisting passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) around a busy airport is no small feat. According to the European Union, a PRM is defined as “any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced as a result of any physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary), intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or as a result of age, and whose situation needs appropriate attention and adaptation to his particular needs of the service made available to all passengers.”

In 2015, 35,000 such individuals requested assistance as they travelled through Helsinki Airport. This year, as the number swells by about 10-15% annually, the total is expected to reach almost 40,000.

“For an international transfer hub such as Helsinki Airport, well-functioning PRM services are a major part of client experience for a growing segment of clients. This is why they must be maintained and further developed in cooperation with organizations representing PRM passengers,” says Pirkko Mahlamäki, secretary general at the Finnish Disability Forum.

“The changes in seasonal numbers are quite significant,” says Jari Pusa, Service Manager at Finavia. “During the high season, from May to September, we assist from 3,500 to 3,900 passengers per month. That means 125 passengers a day. In the low season – November, January and February – we have around 2,500 assisted passengers per month.”

Pusa notes that the actual number of passengers with reduced mobility that make their way through Finland’s main international hub is possibly double or triple that figure. “There are lots of passengers who travel accompanied by their families or personal assistants, and some of them manage by themselves.”

Free comprehensive services

Helsinki Airport, for instance, offers free designated disabled parking and free assistance service. There is also a security control line for special needs passengers in Terminals 1 and 2, as well as accessible bathrooms and spacious elevators on each floor. Finavia's information desks are equipped with an induction loop system for the hearing impaired.

Widely used service

“The most common request is for assistance to be provided to elderly passengers who have difficulty walking long distances but can get himself or herself to a seat on the plane. We use a wheelchair to get the passenger to the gate and assist him or her with hand luggage while boarding,” continues Pusa.

“Travelling by air is becomes more and more common among elderly persons as well,” adds Mahlamäki. “It is important to note that not all passengers face mobility challenges.

Sometimes it simply involves how to access travel-related information in a clear and accessible format.”

As wheelchair assistance is a widely used airport service, a number of able-bodied travelers in some big hub airports around the world have figured out they can use wheelchairs to cut the queues or for general convenience. Fortunately, this is not a big problem at Helsinki Airport.

“There are always a few persons who abuse the service, but we are not allowed to ask for any medical document proving the disability,” Pusa says. “At the European level, it is calculated that 6% of PRM passengers abuse the service. I estimate that number to be much lower in Finland.”

Importance of pre-notification

To guarantee high-quality assistance, those with access-related concerns should notify their airline or travel agency of any required services already at the time of booking. “Nowadays only 50% of passengers needing assistance make the pre-notification request to their respective airlines or tour operators. That number should be much higher,” Pusa shares.

Alternatively, PRM can also report to one of the pick-up points marked with the international disabled access symbol at least two hours before flight departure. At Helsinki Airport, you can find these pick-up points inside and outside both terminal (T1 and T2) as well as in the parking areas P3 (level 2) and P5 (level -1) as well as on the railway platform of the airport train.

Read more about services for passengers requiring assistance