The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has published new industry guidance on assisting passengers with ‘hidden disabilities’.

Guidance to airlines follows similar advice given to airports in 2016 and has been formulated in association with disability groups.

‘Hidden disabilities’ can include autism, dementia, epilepsy and a wide range of invisible medical conditions.

The CAA says it acknowledges existing good practice by some carriers but expects to see passengers with ‘hidden disabilities’ treated with an appropriate level of care by all airlines.

The guidance sets out that airlines should:
• Have a clear and accessible pre-notification system in place allowing passengers to request special assistance at the point of booking.
• Share information about a passenger’s assistance needs within their own organisation and with the airport and ground handling agents.
• Ensure a passenger with a hidden disability is seated with a travelling companion at no extra cost.
• Invest in quality training for staff so hidden disabilities can be identified and passengers assisted accordingly.
• Ensure passengers with hidden disabilities are looked after in the event of flight delays and cancellations.

Paul Smith, director of consumers and markets at the CAA, said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring everyone has equal access to air travel. Passengers with hidden disabilities can find airports and aeroplanes confusing and challenging environments, which is why we want to work with the industry to ensure the journey from check-in to arrival at a final destination is made as comfortable as possible.

“Our work with airports to improve assistance for passengers with hidden disabilities is now being extended to include airlines. Together we can ensure that the appropriate level of assistance and care is provided wherever and whenever it is required.”

A spokesman for industry association Airlines UK said: “UK airlines have a proven track record of working to make air travel as accessible as possible.

“Airlines will engage closely with the CAA on this guidance and also actively promote the steps already in place to ensure passengers with any disability have the best experience when taking to the skies.

“The best thing a passenger with a hidden disability can do is pre-notify their airline in order to request additional assistance and make their individual needs known.”

In response to the CAA’s announcement, long-haul carrier Virgin Atlantic said it already met the criteria. A spokesperson said: “Our people are trained to help customers with hidden disabilities and we recognise both the ‘sunflower lanyard’ which is prevalent in the UK and also our own symbol which is established across our network worldwide.

“We have a robust booking process which allows us to share information securely with teams to ensure customers have a seamless journey. We encourage customers to visit the special assistance page on the website to find out more and to get in touch with our special assistance team.”