Tampa International Airport Whill service image
Credit: Tampa International Airport

Tampa International Airport in the US has launched two new initiatives for passengers with both physical and hidden disabilities.

One of the new initiatives includes an innovative self-driving powerchair service for passengers with reduced mobility at the airport. This type of service is known as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), and passengers will have free access to a modern powerchair called Whill until 10th December 2021.

Whill gives passengers with restricted mobility greater independence and allows for easy transportation across the airport, without assistance from an airport employee, carer or family member to push the passenger in their chair.

Traditionally, if passengers need wheelchair assistance, they request assistance through the airline. The airline will then accommodate the passenger with a wheelchair and an employee to guide them to their terminal.

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“We’re excited to try this service because we want to give our passengers as much control as possible,” said Daniel Glennon, Director of Terminal Operations and Guest Experience at Tampa International Airport. “Whill gives our passengers a comfortable, seamless experience where they can guide themselves while having the capabilities they wouldn’t have with traditional wheelchair service.”

Tampa International Airport currently has 15 Whill powerchairs for the pilot and has rented out more than 50 since the pilot began. Guest Experience representatives from the airport are working with Whill to provide access and assist passengers in using the service.

Although this mobility service is being offered in the US, it is an initiative that could work well in UK airports too. It would give people with reduced mobility a more hassle-free airport experience, as they would not have to arrange airport assistance in advance.

Takanawa Gateway Station in Tokyo has also trialled the Whill MaaS option in the past. The railway station used Whill’s autonomous tracking technology to transport people freely around the station.

Alongside Tampa International Airport’s free powerchair service, it is also trialling the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Program. This helps Guests Services, TSA and Tampa International Airport Police better identify and help those who have spectrum disorders or other disabilities that may not be immediately apparent, such as autism.

The lanyards are free and any passengers or guests can request them at the airport. There are also TSA screening-friendly sunflower stickers available as well. Families or individuals with disabilities may also request special tours to help familiarise themselves with the airport ahead of their travels.

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