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Making Air Travel More Accessible for Passengers with Hidden Disabilities - CAA Guidelines

  • Synopsis: Published: 2016-12-12 - New CAA guidance sets out how UK airports should support people with hidden disabilities, helping improve travel for those with conditions including dementia, autism, mental health problems, hearing loss and visual impairment - U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (caa.co.uk).

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Quote: "We are really pleased with the support UK airports and disability organisations have provided to help us develop these guidelines, however this is just the start and over the next six months we expect airports to make changes and improvements to the services and assistance they provide passengers with hidden disabilities."

New guidelines published by the Civil Aviation Authority set to help passengers with hidden disabilities get better support at UK airports and more effective communication ahead of travel, helping to reduce stress and anxiety when travelling.

Following a wide-ranging consultation with airports and disability organisations, the CAA has set out a number of key guidelines, which include improving identification of people that need extra help and ensuring information is available in a range of formats including clear pictogram images and audio messages.

In addition airports should consider providing quiet routes and quiet areas and must ensure airport staff, including security staff, are given enhanced hidden disability training.

UK airports have welcomed the guidance, which clarifies their legal obligations in providing 'special assistance' to any person with a disability or reduced mobility, which includes those with hidden disabilities, when travelling through an airport and/or on board an aircraft.

Key guidelines for airports include:

  • Airport staff, including security staff, should have hidden disability awareness training, as well as training to cover communication techniques.
  • Ahead of travel, airports should provide clear and detailed information for people with hidden disabilities. This will help with overall familiarisation of the airport environment and help ease anxiety and stress. Communication should include a combination of accessible videos, photos and pictures of airport processes.
  • People with hidden disabilities should have the option of wearing a lanyard, bracelet or other suitably designed aid provided by the airport to ensure they are easily identified by staff and can get the assistance they need.
  • Airports should provide a quiet area to wait for flights and quiet routes through the airport, for example bypassing the retail area. This will make travelling through the airport less stressful and disorientating and will benefit those with sensory impairments in particular.
  • Clear images and audio messages should be available throughout the airport to help passengers find essential points such as toilets, quiet areas and assistance points.
  • People with hidden disabilities must never be separated from a parent/friend/accompanying person during a security search, and security staff must explain prior to the search what screening will take place and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Airports should consider facilitating 'familiarisation visits' or open days for passengers prior to travel to help them experience the airport and aircraft environment.

In regards to this guidance, the CAA has asked the UK's 30 largest UK airports to make the necessary improvements to their special assistance service and we will publish a report on the changes made next year.

Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling said:

"We welcome the CAA's tailored guidance which provides a great opportunity for all UK airports to better meet the needs of people with hidden disabilities. I would encourage airports to learn from each other, consult with charities and specialist groups and deliver great services, to help ensure passengers with hidden disabilities enjoy the huge benefits of air travel."

Director of the CAA's Markets and Consumer Group, Richard Moriarty said:

"Everyone should have fair access to air travel and that's why there are regulations in place to make sure passengers get the assistance they need to be able to fly. Our engagement with disability organisations shows that people with hidden disabilities want to be in control of the assistance they receive, but they do not always get clear information ahead of travel about what support is available."

"To help reduce stress and anxiety it is important passengers and their travelling companions have access to illustrative guides, online videos and photos, which explain the airport layout, the processes passengers need to go through, including security scanning, and what types of support is available."

"We are really pleased with the support UK airports and disability organisations have provided to help us develop these guidelines, however this is just the start and over the next six months we expect airports to make changes and improvements to the services and assistance they provide passengers with hidden disabilities."

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society, said:

"Everyone has the right to be able to travel comfortably and with ease, and we all have a role in helping air passengers with dementia feel like they're able to continue flying. Sadly, we know that airports can be a daunting or frightening experience for many people affected by dementia - this can put people off travelling and in turn lead to them feeling socially isolated. This new guidance from the CAA will provide clear guidelines to help UK airports become more dementia friendly and transform the air travel experience for people with dementia and their carers."

Daniel Cadey, Autism Access Development Manager, at the National Autistic Society, said:

"The new guidance is an important step towards opening up the world to autistic people and their families. Like anyone else, people on the autism spectrum and families want the opportunity to travel and go on holiday. But many rely on routine and find the often busy, loud and unpredictable environment of airports disorientating and overwhelming.

"Helping organisations, including Gatwick airports, to achieve our Autism Friendly Award, we've seen how small adjustments can often make the biggest difference to autistic people. For instance, making sure that staff are aware of hidden conditions like autism, and that there are quieter places for autistic passengers to go if they're feeling overwhelmed. We were delighted to have had the opportunity to share our expertise with the Civil Aviation Authority by feeding into their guidelines, which have the potential to make a significant difference to a great many passengers. We hope that more organisations, including airlines, will follow this example and do their bit to help make sure autistic people and their families have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else."

Ian Sherriff, Chair of the Prime Minister's Dementia Air-Transport Group said:

"As someone who is totally committed to helping our society tackle the many challenges that people with dementia and their carers face daily, I am really excited about the innovative approaches that have been used to develop these guidelines. There is widespread recognition at the highest level of Government of the present and potential future impacts of dementia. The search for ways to enhance the quality of life for those affected is a constant and complex one. Creative projects such as hidden disabilities guidelines have the potential to open up new ways of working in partnerships in the world of aviation. On behalf of the Dementia Air-Transport Group I welcome such ground-breaking solutions that help overcome the challenges faced by people with dementia and their carers in the world of air travel."

Facts: CAA and Disability Air Travel

  • The CAA is the UK's specialist aviation regulator. Its activities include: making sure that the aviation industry meets the highest technical and operational safety standards; preventing holidaymakers from being stranded abroad or losing money because of tour operator insolvency; planning and regulating all UK airspace; and regulating airports, air traffic services and airlines and providing advice on aviation policy.
  • In 2015 more than 254 million passengers passed through UK airports, of which 2.7 million were people with a disability or reduced mobility (PRM). These passengers are legally entitled to free special assistance when travelling by air and this may include help when travelling through an airport, boarding or disembarking an aircraft and during a flight. To ensure passengers get the help they need, they are advised to inform their airline of the specific assistance they require, at least 48 hours prior to take off.
  • The CAA is the body in the UK appointed to ensure that those that need this assistance receive it, and it is a strategic priority for the CAA that disabled passengers and those with mobility restrictions, including non-visible conditions, know that a high standard of help and assistance is available at the airport and on board and that they are confident to fly.
  • European Regulation (EC) 1107/2006 provides rights for passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility when travelling by air. These rights apply at all EU airports and on flights from a European Union (EU) airport. Flights to EU airports are also covered provided that you are travelling with a EU registered carrier.
  • Airport operators and airlines must provide assistance free of charge if you have a disability or reduced mobility and require help to complete your journey. The Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2014, was laid before Parliament on October 27 2014, and came into effect on Dec 1.

Related Information:

  1. Major Airline Travel Tips for Travelers with Disabilities - Since each airline is different we have listed differing policies where travelers with disabilities are concerned - Jessica Padykula
  2. Passenger Rights and Unfair Refusals Still a Problem for Air Travelers with Disability - Disabled and reduced mobility air travelers still face problems of refusals and unfair demands when attempting to travel - European Commission
  3. Accessible Air Travel Tips - Tips for people with disabilities regarding accessible air travel and finding hotel accommodation near Heathrow airport - Disabled World


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