Airline travel and Dementia

Purple Angel

Virgin Atlantic are working with the Purple Angel Association to give employees a greater understanding about airline and travel dementia.

geraldine lundyGuest Post by Geraldine Lundy. Passenger Accessibility Manager at Virgin Atlantic


Virgin Atlantic

As Passenger Accessibility Manager fro Virgin Atlantic I have one of the most rewarding jobs I can imagine. One of my key roles is to enable any customer with a disability, whatever type of disability that is, to travel as safely and comfortably as possible. This is balanced with the need to ensure that the airline is compliant with all relevant disability related legislation.

One of the greatest challenges our crew and ground staff have is when a customer travels with Virgin Atlantic and they have a non-visible disability such as dementia.

This is because it is not as easy to recognise that this customer may have additional travel needs as someone who, for example, uses a wheelchair or is travelling with an assistance dog.

Some people who are living with the condition may feel that they don’t want to tell us or that there is nothing we can do.

It is a challenge for our procedures and training teams to have the correct information to deliver to our staff. This is because we have to equip them with the skills and information to be aware of and ensure excellence customer service for every type of disability a traveller may have. All of this has to be trained within a busy training schedule and is compounded by the fact that we cannot be experts in every field. However that said we are determined to not ignore the issue of dementia.

This is why we were so interested when Caron Sproke from Purple Angels contacted us.

Purple Angel

With their help we now have specially made videos and fact sheets designed to support staff members via their intranet and in training sessions.

About Purple Angels

Established in 2013 by Norman Macnamarra who himself has early onset dementia, the Purple Angel has rapidly become a globally recognised logo with nearly 200 volunteer Ambassadors worldwide.

Local and National businesses encourage employees to recognise that customers with dementia may have particular needs and how to help them. Displaying a Purple Angel sign indicates to customers that staff have an understanding which helps to reduce stigma and isolation.

Caron was willing to use her contacts to provide us with accurate and informative material that we could deliver to our staff.

We’ve put this material onto our Accessibility page on our staff Intranet and will be incorporating portions of it in the training environment in the near future. We’re also talking to other agencies who work with elderly people and people with dementia so that we can enhance our training and awareness even more.

We believe this is especially vital now due to the increasing age of the population. This means that we are likely to see more customers travelling who have dementia. So there is a clear business imperative for Virgin Atlantic to be the airline of choice.

Purple Angel founder Norman McNamara is delighted with the incredible news that Virgin Atlantic have accepted an invitation to learn more about dementia from the Purple Angel Association.

Norman said:

Normally people would not put the words airline travel and dementia in the same sentence, but you would be surprised how many people with dementia still fly to go on holiday.
It’s so important that airline staff are aware that being in a small space for a certain amount of time can be stressful enough to most people but for someone with dementia it can be much worse.

By improving our own knowledge and awareness of dementia at Virgin Atlantic we can be much more in tune with passenger needs and ensure we deliver a great travel experience.

If anyone would like to share their Airline travel stories good or bad or have an idea that would help Virgin to enhance their service and provision to disabled travellers please get in touch with the Really Useful Team email kay@reallyusefulstuff.co