Requests for assistance for airline passengers with intellectual disabilities have seen a nearly eight-fold increase in Asia, following its 10-month long Travel Unified campaign to raise awareness of a dedicated Special Service Request (SSR) booking code by travel technology company, Travelport.
SSR codes are used in the airline industry to communicate traveller preferences or needs to airlines. They are delivered through standardised four-letter codes defined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The DPNA SSR code can be used by travel agents, among others, to alert airlines when a passenger has intellectual or developmental disability and needs assistance.
The official description of the DPNA SSR code, as outlined by IATA, is: “Disabled Passenger with Intellectual or Developmental Disability Needing Assistance”. The 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.
Travelport launched its Travel Unified campaign in Mar-2019 after it found evidence of exceptionally low use of the code on bookings made through its global distribution system (GDS) reservation network. Of the more than 250 million flight bookings made through Travelport in 2018, the DPNA code was applied to just 4,309 bookings – approximately 0.0015%; despite an estimated 2.6% of the world’s population having an intellectual disability. Travelport identified through a poll of travel agents and conversations with non-profit organisations confirmed this was due to a lack of awareness.
Now, it says, from the launch of the campaign up until the end of 2019, use of the DPNA SSR code on flights booked through its platform in Asia increased by 762% compared to the same period in 2018. Locations like India and Hong Kong saw exceptionally large spikes of +458% and +243% respectively.
In addition, the code was used for the first time through Travelport in seven countries in the continent: Israel, Kuwait, Mongolia, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
As part of its campaign to raise awareness of the DPNA SSR code, Travelport says it has shared educational ‘sign-on alerts’ and graphical ‘prompts’ more than 10 million times with hundreds of thousands of travel agents across the world through Travelport Smartpoint, its flagship Point of Sale solution that is used by travel agents, among others, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms and more.
Further attention has been raised through Emirati vlogger, Khalid Al Ameri, who documented his family’s positive experience traveling from the UAE to Bahrain on a flight with Etihad Airways, with the DPNA SSR code applied to the booking of his son, who is on the autism spectrum.
Since the video went live on Al Ameri’s Facebook page on World Autism Day, it has been viewed more than seven million times, shared more than 100,000 times and received more than 10,000 messages of support.
SSR codes play an important role in helping travel agents effectively and officially communicate the needs of travellers to IATA airlines so it is heartening to see such a significant spike in use of the DPNA code in Asia. Travelport says it is “committed” to making travel an exciting, stress-free and dignified experience for everyone and plans to further its Travel Unified campaign in 2020.
Travelling can be a stressful experience and the industry has been quick to incorporated procedures to ease the journey, whether that is delivering step-free access, being respectful to cultural and economic needs, to explaining the sights, sounds, smells and experiences customers may encounter during their journey.
It is progress – some may say not enough – but airlines, airports and more now have a better understanding of the needs of travellers with both visible and hidden disabilities. Stories in the press still highlight when things go wrong, but on the whole strong progress has been made, especially on the matter of hidden disabilities.