Travelport launches global campaign to encourage more support for airline passengers with intellectual disabilities

  • Campaign allied to the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 targets greater use of the DPNA Special Service Request code1, used to alert airlines when a traveler has an intellectual or developmental disability and needs assistance
  • Company discovered exceptionally low use of the code across the world in 2018
  • Poll of travel agents revealed just 24% are aware the code exists
  • Code awareness campaign set to reach more than 100,000 travel agents in over 30 countries
  • Content to be displayed over 3.5 million times to travel agents
  • IATA calls for all member airlines to implement correct codes for disabled passengers on their systems

Travelport (NYSE:TVPT), the leading travel commerce platform, today announced it has launched a global campaign to improve awareness and use of the DPNA Special Service Request (SSR) code, which can be used by travel agents, among others, to alert airlines when a passenger has intellectual or developmental disability and needs assistance.

The campaign was initiated after Travelport found evidence of exceptionally low use of the code on bookings made through its global distribution system (GDS). GDS are vast hi-tech reservation networks that allow travel agents, travel management companies and large corporations, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel related items. Despite registering more than 250 million flight bookings through its GDS globally in 2018, and an estimated 200 million people worldwide having an intellectual disability2 (2.6% of the global population), the code was used just 4,309 times (approximately 0.0015% of total flight bookings). A poll of 136 of travel agents, conducted by Travelport, revealed just 24% know the code exists.

The campaign launches at a time when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is gearing up to host the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019, which celebrates the abilities and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities and aims to foster a new global vision of acceptance. Over the last few years, the UAE government has introduced a number of new policies and regulations to support people with special needs, which it refers to as “the determined ones”. One example of this includes the introduction of the UAE national policy, launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with the aim to foster ‘an inclusive, restriction-free society for those with disabilities — that empowers them and their families and guarantees their right to a dignified life’. The national policy focuses on six key goals, one of them being to enhance public life for People of Determination, such as ease of travel.

Travelport’s six-month long campaign will reach more than 100,000 travel agents in over 30 countries. It features electronic direct mails (EDMs) as well as ‘sign on alerts’ and graphical ‘prompts’ delivered through the company’s flagship Travelport Smartpoint tool, which is used by travel agents, among others, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms and more. The EDMs and ‘sign on alerts’ are being shown to its travel agent partners globally, while the ‘prompts’ are activated when a consultant is at the booking stage of a flight to over 30 of the most popular destinations in the world such as London, New York, Sydney and Delhi.

The EDM ‘prompts’ are also being shown when any flight is about to be booked to or from the UAE, considering the country is hosting the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 this month. Travelport has also created a campaign webpage (www.travelport.com/travelunified), which provides guidance for travel agents on talking to travelers about intellectual disabilities and associated assistance.

The digital media used to reach travel agents during the campaign is typically sold by Travelport to travel providers, like airlines and hotels, as advertising space. The company has allocated over USD 100,000 worth of slots for the DPNA SSR code awareness campaign, which will run until 31 August 2019. Content from the campaign will be displayed to travel agents more than 3.5 million times, making it one of the biggest digital media campaigns the company has ever executed.

Gordon Wilson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Travelport, said: “Travel can be a particularly challenging time for people who require special assistance, so once we discovered such low use of the DPNA SSR code, we decided to take action. Our point of sale, Travelport Smartpoint, with all of its graphical and prompted capabilities offers the perfect channel to reach and remind travel agents across the world of the existence of this facility, enabling them to work in better partnership with our airline customers in the service of these customers. We hope this campaign will not only make a difference in the travel industry but act as a catalyst for other organizations to investigate how their industry or the industry they serve can better support people with intellectual disabilities and make improvements where needed.”

SSR codes are used in the airline industry to communicate traveler preferences or needs, such as requests for wheelchair assistance, to airlines. They are delivered through standardized four-letter codes defined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The DPNA code needs to be accompanied by additional descriptive free text, so the airline understands the support required. Once an IATA member airline has received the code, a response acknowledging the request is mandatory.

Linda Ristagno, External Affairs Manager at IATA, said: “We introduced the DPNA SSR code to assist persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are delighted that Travelport has launched this awareness campaign and encourage all our member airlines and travel agents to properly use this and all the other IATA disability codes to ensure that the appropriate support to our valued passengers is provided.”

Linda Celestino, Vice President, Guest Service and Delivery, Etihad Airways, said: “As the official airline partner of the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019, we are proud to support the use of the DPNA Special Service Request to enhance visibility for our Airport and Cabin Crew teams when assisting People of Determination. In preparation for Special Olympics team travel across the Etihad network, our teams have received additional training on how to best support guests with intellectual disabilities.”

Bryan Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome the athletes and visitors arriving in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games. Abu Dhabi Airports is eager to provide an inclusive airport facility, where all visitors feel at home when they arrive, regardless of their needs and type of journey they are making. Supporting international organizations including IATA and Travelport in their pioneering initiatives allows us to continually enhance our customers’ travel experience and falls in line with our vision of becoming the world’s leading airports group.”

Emma Hawkins, Director of Education at Jigsaw Trust, a registered charity based in the United Kingdom that provides facilities, services and resources to educate and support people with autism, has a stepson with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). As such, she’s had first-hand experience of the assistance that airlines typically provide for passengers with intellectual or developmental disabilities and understands how important arranging specialized assistance for these passengers can be.

“Not all intellectually disabled people need to get on a flight first with the noisy or crying children, and not all need to get on last,” said Emma. “In my stepson’s case, once he’s with an established group, he wants the group to stay together. We are a big family and can often arrive at the airport in a group of six or eight. If that’s the case, he wants us all to stay together. So, when the airline says my stepson plus one can get on the plane, can go through security and passport control without queueing, that is no good to us.”

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that airports and airlines can apply that is going to improve the travel experience for people like my stepson. This is why the ability to enter specific details of both the passenger’s intellectual disability and the assistance needed when booking a flight goes a long way to setting expectations upfront,” said Emma.

Dr. Yousef Al Hammadi, Chief Intelligence Officer at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, said: “We are excited to see companies such as Travelport getting inspired by the values of the Special Olympics movement and creating innovative solutions to help improve everyday experiences and quality of life for People of Determination. The World Games are a catalyst for change, and this initiative is a wonderful example of how we can build a legacy of inclusion long after the Closing Ceremony.”

The Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 starts on Thursday 14 March and runs until Thursday 21 March. The event is on par with the traditional Olympics in terms of nations represented, number of athletes competing, quality of competition venues, and scope of involvement by the host country and city. The 2019 Games will feature 7,000 athletes representing a record 170 countries. They will come to Abu Dhabi to demonstrate their skill and determination on the field of play in 24 sports, while more than 500,000 spectators cheer them on and millions more fans around the globe are connected to every race and event.

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