The rapid evolution of technology has fundamentally changed how we travel in the 21st century. From ride-hailing apps for smartphones to the advent of sub-orbital and eVTOL passenger aircraft. Despite these impressive advancements, one area of the industry that has seen little progress is inclusive air travel.
The flying experience for economy passengers travelling on-board commercial aircraft has not changed much in the last 50 years; but as bad as many people find that experience, it is much worse for disabled passengers – especially those who require a wheelchair.
While working on a recent client project, I was shocked to discover just how inhumane air travel can be for passengers with reduced mobility: damaged wheelchairs, lack of appropriate seating and an undignified bathroom experience which results in many people being transferred to the toilet behind a curtain in view of other passengers. During the research phase of the project, disabled travellers remarked how they would dehydrate and starve themselves – to the point where their wellbeing was in danger – just to avoid the humiliation arising from using the on-board facilities.
Even more shockingly, there is still no legal requirement in certain countries for airlines to provide an accessible lavatory on single-aisle aircraft. With more single-aisle aircraft entering service, there is therefore no legal guarantee disabled passengers will be provided for.
However, it looks like the tide is finally beginning to change.
A landmark legal case in the US may soon mandate all airlines to have accessible on-board lavatories. In the UK, the Department for Transport has this week unveiled its new #ItsEveryonesJourney campaign – highlighting the need for more inclusive public transport; while aviation-specific lobby groups, like Flying Disabled, are now working directly with airlines and designers to develop new cabin products to make flying accessible for everyone.
The recently launched ACCESS aircraft lavatory – as featured in the Daily Mail, Forbes, Business Traveller and many other publications – is a perfect example of how technological innovation can pave the way for an inclusive transport network.
While there is no silver bullet to solve such a massive global problem, it is great to finally see increased public awareness of the issues and more people working to introduce real change. Long may it continue!