Plane sailing: stoma-friendly airport travel
Saturday, March 31, 2018
Cristina Smith, Customer Services Executive at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, talks about the work her team has done to make air travel easier for ostomates
The team at Liverpool John Lennon Airport are proud to be the recipients of the first Ostomy Friendly Airport Award from Stomawise and the Civil Aviation Authority. Not unusually for an airport, it’s been a bit of a journey to get here.
In November 2016, John Walsh from Stomawise got in touch, as he wanted to talk to staff about Ostomy Awareness, including how we could recognise potential stumbling blocks travellers might face and how we could support travellers to overcome them.
We had been aware that there were a number of ostomates who passed through our airport from time to time, as some had contacted us after their journeys, and we had received anecdotal feedback from members of our assistance teams and airport security colleagues. Ostomates living on the Isle of Man often fly to Liverpool, sometimes for leisure, other times to access specialist care.
‘security processes can be the most daunting thing about an airport’
However, it was only when we met first with John that we became aware of the daily challenges people with a stoma face. He shared his own experiences of air travel with an ostomy. The practical information and advice he gave included how to prepare to pass through the airport security processes and possible challenges faced on board a flight. These were real eye openers, and it was clear to us that we had a lot to learn and to put into practice.
Faster, easier, friendlier
Our team is on a mission to be known for being faster, easier and friendlier. Liverpool John Lennon may be a regional airport with a relatively small terminal building, but we saw almost 5 million travellers pass through in 2017. We we were recently recognised as one of the best airports for on-time performance by the Civil Aviation Authority, and customer feedback and airport service quality results have told us that most people find us easier to navigate than many larger airports. That’s faster and easier down, but what about friendlier? Last but not least, we do all we can to ensure flyers feel welcome, whether they are departing or flying into our city region.
Walking in someone else’s shoes
Assistance and security processes can be the most daunting thing about an airport, so we started by making them more stoma-friendly. First, we provided our service partners with on-the-job information on stomas. We took this to the next level by inviting John and Zoi from Stomawise to help us work on some new joint training resources.
‘There are few things as important to a smoothly running airport as good toilets’
As part of this, we allowed staff to walk in the footsteps of a traveller with an ostomy and see what challenges they might face when communicating with their colleagues in security. At an open event for both air crew and airport staff, we took the opportunity to bring crew members into our discussion and help us work out ostomy needs in an aircraft cabin environment. The experience of walking in the passenger’s shoes helped the team come up with a number of initiatives.
We worked with Stomawise put together an ostomy travel passport. This is a handy way for the travellers to communicate to people that they have a stoma, as well as what a stoma is and key ways to make life easier for an ostomate. It also provides the traveller with useful tips and advice on caring for their ostomy while on the move.
‘There is the fear of not being listened to or understood’
As a visual aid with the key information presented in several languages, it is a great way to communicate with people when you don’t share a language. You can order yours from the Stomawise website.
There are few things as important to a smoothly running airport as good toilets. As ours were being upgraded, we wanted to apply our new ostomy awareness to the toilets. We added a variety of accessible options, including accessible units and parent-and-child options. We had heard that, when ostomates change their appliance in public loos, they are often left with nowhere to put their supplies, except on the floor. We made sure that our cubicles came with a shelf space for easier and more hygienic changing.
Listening to ostomy and disability groups made us aware that some people need access to changing facilities at short notice. Therefore, we are placing a designated changing place at every busy part of the airport, which we hope will be practical, welcoming and easy to locate. We have also tried to make our accessible toilets and changing facilities pleasing to the eye, rather than austerely clinical.
Billy and Bella
This was when Billy and Bella Bear joined the airport team. Stomawise had shown us their teddy bears with their own ostomy and a removable pouch. We had an idea, and asked for two of these bears, Billy and Bella, to join us. Bella now sits at the assistance welcome desk in the check-in hall, while Billy has taken up residence in the optional private search room at security.
These are the places where travellers often go to communicate their situation to a member of staff. For an ostomate, this could be daunting. There is the fear of not being listened to or understood, potentially made more stressful by the fear of missing a flight or a language barrier. However, seeing the bear with a stoma is clear message that staff will understand their condition and what assistance might be needed.
OstoBears are available to order from StomaWise.
Our partners in the sky
Listening to users has to be key to everything we do, and we believe that keeping up a dialogue is vital. Billy and Bella helped us promote ostomy awareness as the Accessible Airport Forum held in 2016 and 2017 at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. This was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the challenges faced by people with a wide range of disabilities—visual, audio, mobility, hidden. Many disability groups came along to give airport staff the opportunity to adapt to new ways of working.
‘Listening to users has to be key to everything we do’
This ostomy awareness has also caught on with our airline partners. Blue Air, the latest airline to fly from Liverpool, has adopted its own Ostobear, Billy Blue. Billy Blue acts as an awareness tool and memory aid for the crews, helping them identify travellers who may need in-flight advice and support. Billy Blue flew as a VIP guest on the inaugural flight from the new base in Liverpool, and he sat in the cockpit on a return flight to Rome. He also joined members of disability groups, airport staff and airline crews for a talk on accessibility held in the aircraft cabin.
Hearing from you
We love to hear how we are doing, as well as suggestions on what we can improve; so, if you’re flying through, do get in touch and let us know what you think. We also invite anyone who hasn’t travelled through our airport before to contact us with any questions or concerns they may have. We’d love to hear from you.
It has been a long and rewarding journey to reach this point, and we would like to thank John Walsh from Stomawise for his support and guidance on the way.
Cristina Smith works at Liverpool John Lennon Airport
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