Assistance

KLM offering Amsterdam travelers a ‘care tag’

Thinking of heading to Amsterdam?

September, when all the college kids and summer tourists clear out, might be a good time to go.

And if you do, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has what may be a fun – free – travel gadget for you.

For travelers going to Amsterdam in September, KLM has created a “Care Tag,” which it describes as a smart audio luggage tag with a built-in offline GPS module and a speaker that automatically provides verbal tips (recorded by KLM crew members) on how to travel in the city.

KLM says the tips include alerts on busy intersections with a lot of cyclists, where and how to lock your bike, and when you should watch out for pickpockets, where to taste local food for free, where to see great street art, or where to rent a bike or boat.

How do you get a tag?  KLM says passengers traveling to Amsterdam in September will be able to order their  tag on line for free. The first batch of Care Tags will speak English, but Care Tags that speak Chinese, Portuguese, German and Russian will be available later this year.

I’m checking to see if just a speaker on the tags or if you can plug in a set of headphones.

And, while the Lost and Found pup was cute – but not real – KLM reps say the Care Tag is real thing.

 

 

Airlines, airports still a challenge for travelers with disabilities

ADA IMAGE

To mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, last month the Open Doors Organization (ODO) released the findings of a new study looking at the impact the disability travel market has on the industry and the broader economy.

A follow up to similar studies the group conducted in 2002 and 2005, this year’s study found that in the past two years alone, more than 26 million adults with disabilities traveled for pleasure and/or business, taking 73 million trips and spending $17.3 billion annually (up from $13.6 billion in 2002) on those trips.

ODO points out that “[s]ince these individuals typically travel with one or more other adults, the economic impact is actually double, or $34.6 billion.”

The number of travelers in this group and the money they spend on travel is large – and, as the population ages – surely getting larger. Yet the study, conducted for ODO by Mandala Research, found that while there have been some improvements, unnecessary barriers still exist.

For example, among adults with disabilities who have traveled by air, 72 percent said they encountered major obstacles with airlines and 65 percent with airports, down from 84 percent and 82 percent in 2005, respectively.

“When we carried out our first nationwide study in 2002, the goal was to wake up the travel industry to the importance of this mostly under-served market segment and give them hard numbers on which to base investment decisions,” said ODO director Eric Lipp.

“Now 13 years later, our economic impact is no longer a secret, especially in air travel. At large airports like Miami and Minneapolis/St. Paul, airlines now must provide more than 1 million wheelchair assists per year. And as the Baby Boomers continue to age, you can be sure our market will keep growing for years to come,” he said.

The ODO report goes beyond airports and airlines to explore travel patterns, spending levels and the physical, customer-service and communication obstacles encountered by people with disabilities in hotels and restaurants and on cruises and ground transportation, including ride-share services.

Interested in finding out more? The non-profit ODO has copies of the full study available for sale.

Airlines encouraging disaster relief donations

Heartbroken over the images and stories coming out of Oklahoma?

Oklahoma Tornados 2013

Courtesy American Red Cross

 

 

Airlines are joining in to encourage you to help out by donating some money or miles.

Here are a few that have posted notices on their websites:

Through June 30, 2012, American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn a one-time bonus of 250 AAdvantage miles for a minimum donation of $50, or 500 AAdvantage miles for a minimum donation of $100 or more to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. More details here.

You can also to donate to disaster relief through the Alaska Airlines Charity Mile Pool  and through Southwest Airlines, which is working with American Red Cross Disaster Relief to raise funds to help those affected by the tornadoes, as well as for military members and their families and other relief services.  

Horizon Air president apologizes to mistreated passenger

Over the weekend, a Bend, Ore., man took to Facebook to describe the incivility he alleged was inflicted on a fellow passenger on an Horizon Air flight out of Oregon’s Redmond Municipal Airport.

Cameron Clark witnessed what he described on Facebook as “the worst of humanity” when airline staff on duty appeared to ignore and refuse special assistance to a couple he thought was “disabled/mentally and physically challenged.”

Clark estimated the couple to be in their 70s and said that the man later told him he had late-stage Parkinson’s disease, that his companion had MS and that he was trying to get to Bellingham, Wash., to see his daughter.

“He had a hard time walking,” Clark wrote on Facebook, “No one offered him a wheelchair or asked how they could be helpful. He stumbled off toward the safety inspection line. Predictably, he didn’t understand/comprehend their restriction of his luggage, and got stuck in security.”

Throughout the weekend, Clark’s Facebook post created a flurry of negative and outraged comments, which Alaska Airlines responded to with a series of Facebook posts of its own.

I spoke with Alaska Airlines spokesperson Paul McElroy on Monday morning and he told me that while the passenger did not get on his Friday flight, he did fly Saturday and is visiting with his daughter at an alternate location. McElroy said the airline refunded the passenger’s initial ticket price and provided complimentary round-trip transportation for his trip.

“There are things we should have done better,” said McElroy, who added that the president of Horizon Airlines was preparing a post to that effect. (Regional airline Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines are both owned by the Alaska Air Group, which is based in Seattle.)

Coincidentally, on Monday the airline was meeting with Eric Lipp, the executive director of Open Doors Organization, an independent disability advocacy group. “We’re going to leverage their visit and ask them to help us review what we did with this customer to see if we could have done better,” McElroy said.

Lipp said there are laws to help passengers with disabilities and extra services that airlines can and are willing to provide. “But the law says the passenger has to self-identify,” said Lipp. “Otherwise, it’s a puzzle. The breakdown here is that the passenger didn’t self-identify and the airline didn’t have the right codes in the system to get him services he was entitled to.”

Lipp had other advice for passengers with disabilities and much of it was rolled into the apology Horizon Air president Glenn Johnson posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon. Here’s part of that statement, which includes some helpful tips.

“…First and foremost, we’ve determined that we could and should have handled this better and I apologize to our passenger on behalf of all of us at Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines. This experience has reminded us of the importance of assisting passengers with disabilities and making sure every one of them receives the special care they may need.

The information we’ve gathered during our review will certainly improve our efforts going forward.”

…Alaska and Horizon have partnered with Open Doors Organization, an independent disability advocacy group, to review employees’ handling of the situation and suggest improvements in the airlines’ disability, awareness and sensitivity training. Eric Lipp, Open Doors Organization’s executive director, advises passengers with a disability who are traveling to:

  • Self-disclose to the airline any assistance you may need before you arrive at the airport. This could include an escort or wheelchair assistance through security, to the gate, and while boarding and exiting the plane.
  • Ask the airline if you prefer to have a personal assistant escort you to the gate. Most airlines will issue passes to personal assistants to help passengers with disabilities get to or from the gate area.
  • Plan ahead and arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before your flight departs, which allows time to check luggage, obtain wheelchair services, get through security and board the flight.

(Part of this post first appeared in my NBC News story Witness blasts Alaska Airlines for treatment of fellow passenger.

Tidbits for travelers: new airport, new avatar on duty

Mari, a Stuck at The Airport reader who works in air navigation in Georgia – the country, not the state – wrote to draw our attention to the King David the Builder International Airport being built in Kutaisi, Georgia by the Dutch architectural firm, UNStudio.

The airport is scheduled to be completed by September, 2012. Here’s what the tower is going to look like:

(Photo courtesy UNStudio)

Very futuristic-looking, right?

At Washington Dulles International Airport, the future is already here.

A 3D-looking Tensator Virtual Assistant – Dulles has named her “Paige” – is on duty welcoming passengers, offering Customs and Border Protection information and sharing connecting flight information in the International Arrivals Building.

Here’s a video (taken by an airport representative) of Paige in action: