Hidden Disabilities Lanyard

This article first appeared in Journal 239 (Winter 2017), written by Claire Fernie, Fife IA.

Sadly, when we hear reports from individuals with a stoma about travelling by air, there appear to be too many instances where they have been made to feel embarrassed or singled out for inappropriate treatment, particularly when proceeding through airport security. One of our members had this in mind when, in spring of this year, she saw an item on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ programme about a lanyard to discreetly identify travellers with a hidden disability at the airport. The television discussion centred on the case of a young boy with autism, but our member thought that the lanyard ought to be available to persons with ostomies, as well as to those with other conditions such as hearing, mobility or sight issues.

Our Secretary, Betty McNeil, contacted James Freemantle, Consumer Enforcement Manager at the Civil Aviation Authority, UK (CAA), and he told us that: “The CAA is mindful of the needs of people with stomas at airports, so we certainly consider it as a ‘hidden disability’. In our guidance to airports(1), you will see that we have focussed on autism and dementia but do not discount any condition or disability. Instead we expect airports to focus on meeting the needs of a range of disabilities when providing their service.” Mr Freemantle also put us in touch with Matthew Wilson, the Accessibility Manager at Edinburgh Airport, who told us more about the hidden disabilities lanyard scheme, which is recognised throughout Europe.

The idea behind the lanyard, and associated pin badge (see photo), is that they enable groundside staff at the airport to discreetly identify passengers who may require additional support at the airport, and through security screening in particular. Airport staff will not go out of their way to impose unsolicited help (which could potentially embarrass the lanyard user) but they are expected to tailor their approach in recognition of a hidden condition. This does not mean that someone wearing a lanyard will not be subject to routine security checks. Airport security staff still have to meet their legislative obligation to ensure that no passengers are carrying prohibited substances, although the CAA regulation requires that “…security officers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers and [that] security officers should always ask the passenger how this can best be achieved”.

If a passenger is subject to a random search, or a hand search is deemed to be required, the security officer may need to confirm that the item they are identifying is a stoma appliance and not a prohibited item. The expectation is that the officer will need to see the appliance. Matthew informed us that the experience of security staff at Edinburgh Airport has been that some passengers are willing to show their stoma appliance to staff on the spot. However, no passenger is obliged to show their stoma appliance, or any aspect of their person, in public and a passenger can always ask to be searched in private. It is helpful if staff are made aware of the hidden condition at this point. Two security guards should be present at any private search and the passenger is entitled to have a single accompanying person with them at all times during a search. If a passenger feels that the correct procedure has not been followed, or that the security staff have behaved inappropriately, a complaint should be made to the airport. This should include details of the passenger’s name, the flight number(s), the approximate time of passing through security and the details of the incident.

Passengers with hidden disabilities or additional needs can obtain a lanyard and pin from the Special Assistance Reception at the airport. Some airports may also be able to send them out by post – check the airport’s website or Customer Relations for more information. You do not need to provide proof of your condition to collect a lanyard and you can keep it for as long as you require it. You don’t have to request Special Assistance at the airport to use a lanyard – that is, ask for a trained member of staff to help you navigate the airport, or for mobility assistance – but if you feel you would prefer to be accompanied through security, you can request Special Assistance for this purpose, even if you are already accompanied by another passenger. Such requests must be made 48 hours in advance. The Special Assistance staff should also be able to provide details of the security procedure, as well as other helpful information such as the location of all of an airport’s toilets.

There are a few other areas of the CAA’s CAP1411 regulation which are worth noting. Section 27 states that: “People with hidden disabilities should never be separated from accompanying persons at security search areas or at any other stage of their journey through the airport.” and Section 29 states that: “Airports should also consider if an ‘assistance’ security lane is an option […]. As a minimum, airports should allow people with hidden disabilities to access ‘fast-track’ or quieter security lanes at no extra cost.”

So much for the encouraging theory, but how does using the lanyard work in practice? Our first experiment was conducted when I flew from Edinburgh to Bristol and back for National Council in April. As instructed, I went to the Special Assistance Reception at Edinburgh Airport, said that I have a hidden disability and asked if I could please have a lanyard. This was immediately handed over by a very pleasant member of staff, with no questions except whether I might require any particular assistance, which I declined. Nobody appeared to even notice the lanyard, but when I reached security, a member of staff did direct me to a particular queue which was fast-moving, but otherwise seemed no different to the others. I was not taken aside to be searched at either airport. On the way back at Bristol, I was accompanied by Alison Crawshaw, one of IA’s stoma care nurse liaisons. The security area was quiet, but we were both immediately directed to an empty lane and again I was processed swiftly and discreetly.

Over the summer, a few of our members have used their lanyard and pin and the feedback so far has been positive – the lanyard has been recognised at a number of European airports and our members have been discreetly directed to particular or fast-moving security queues and passed through checks without any embarrassing intrusions or being separated from their parties. Some airports, including Heathrow, also highlight other Special Assistance schemes on their websites and, if information about the lanyard is not immediately visible, passengers need to make a direct enquiry on how to obtain it. We have no idea as yet as to what size of group will be regarded as “accompanying persons” at the security gate, and it is likely to vary depending on location and the level of activity at the airport. It is possible that a large family group, for instance, may be split up but, nonetheless, the passenger with the stoma should not be isolated.

There is no reason to believe that use of the lanyard will be affected by any border regulation changes associated with Brexit in the future. The UK is currently outside the Schengen Area of European border security cooperation, (and this is unlikely to change), and the lanyard continues to be recognised throughout Europe. We also are keen to find out whether there are similar schemes in operation in other geographic areas such as North America, Australia or the Far East, so if anyone is heading off to more exotic locations, please feed back about your experiences. I do realise that many readers may be thinking “I could have done with hearing about this in July!”, but we did not want to share this information more widely until we had some experience of the scheme in operation. With any luck, next summer’s holiday will include a more pleasant and reassuring experience at the airport for all of us.


(1) The document to which Mr Freemantle refers can be found at: www.caa.co.uk/Commercial-industry/ Airports/Guidance-on-consumer-law-forairports/. Under the heading “Hidden disabilities”, there is a link to guidance document CAP1411, which sets out airport obligations under EU Regulation EC1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air.

The CAA would welcome feedback on the quality of assistance passengers with all types of disability receive at airports and have a link to a short questionnaire [available as at August 2018] at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/PRMUK. Although the survey is worded in terms applying to those with mobility issues, there is space in the comments boxes to state a passenger’s condition and the service that is being reviewed.