Traveling through a bustling airport can be an overwhelming experience, especially for first-time solo travelers. The multitude of gates, crowds, and constant noise, all within the constraints of a strict schedule, can be particularly challenging for individuals with disabilities.
Recognizsing the additional stress faced by these passengers, Gatwick Airport’s Accessibility Manager, Anna-Ruth Cockerham, emphasises the crucial role of supporting guide dogs throughout their journey at the airport. Cockerham sheds light on the positive impact such support can have on the overall travel experience for individuals with disabilities.
Since 2017, Gatwick Airport has been hosting visits for guide dogs, providing them with a unique opportunity to acclimate to the airport environment before it becomes overwhelming. Last week, following a temporary pause due to the pandemic, these visits resumed, offering valuable training experiences for guide dogs and their handlers.
In collaboration with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Gatwick Airport welcomed eight guide dog puppies and their fosterers. Throughout the visit, the dogs accompanied passengers on their entire journey, from check-in and security procedures to boarding a TUI plane.
Gatwick Airport witnesses around a dozen service animals traveling through its terminals each month. Visits like these offer exceptional training opportunities for the animals to gain a better understanding of the unique airport environment and processes. This preparation ensures that when they support individuals at the airport or similar busy public locations in the future, they are fully prepared for the task.
The training process for guide dogs can take up to two years, during which time they are placed with multiple volunteer fosterers and trainers who specialize in different aspects of the job. As these remarkable animals gracefully navigate the airport, they become the stars of the show, capturing the attention of onlookers with their golden coats and joyful demeanor.
These visits not only provide valuable experience for the guide dogs but also allow Gatwick Airport colleagues to better understand how to accommodate service animals effectively. The airport remains steadfast in its commitment to improving the experiences of both service animals and the passengers they assist. This commitment is evident through airport-wide training initiatives and continuous efforts to enhance facilities.
As part of Gatwick Airport’s Decade of Change initiative, the company is dedicated to ensuring equal access and opportunities for colleagues and passengers, regardless of their journey. By creating an inclusive environment, Gatwick aims to be the airport for everyone.
Gatwick Airport extends its heartfelt appreciation to the colleagues who contributed to the visit, as well as TUI and ASC Handling for their collaboration in providing the plane, and special assistance provider Wilson James.