The Civil Aviation Authority has published new industry guidance on assisting passengers with hidden disabilities.
The guidance to airlines follows similar advice given to airports in 2016 and has been formulated in association with disability groups.
Acknowledging existing good practice by some carriers, the CAA expects to see passengers with hidden disabilities treated with an appropriate level of care by all airlines.
The CAA guidance makes clear that airlines need the right procedures in place to assist such passengers.
Specifically, airlines should have a clear and accessible pre-notification system in place allowing passengers to request special assistance at the point of booking.
At the same time, they should share information about a passenger’s assistance needs within their own organisation and with the airport and ground handling agents, the CAA said.
Airlines should also seek to ensure a passenger with a hidden disability is seated with a travelling companion at no extra cost, invest in quality training for staff so hidden disabilities can be identified and passengers assisted accordingly and ensure passengers with hidden disabilities are looked after in the event of flight delays and cancellations.
Paul Smith, director of consumers and markets at the Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Hidden disabilities can include autism, dementia, epilepsy and a wide range of invisible medical conditions.
“Therefore, we are absolutely committed to ensuring everyone has equal access to air travel.
“Passengers with hidden disabilities can find airports and aeroplanes confusing and challenging environments, which is why we want to work with the industry to ensure the journey from check-in to arrival at a final destination is made as comfortable as possible.”
He added: “Our work with airports to improve assistance for passengers with hidden disabilities is now being extended to include airlines.
“Together we can ensure that the appropriate level of assistance and care is provided wherever and whenever it is required.”
Virgin Atlantic was among the first to welcome the new guidelines.
A statement from the carrier said: “Virgin Atlantic is passionate about making travel accessible for all our customers and we are proud to be able to say we already meet all the criteria set out by the CAA.
“Our people are trained to help customers with hidden disabilities and we recognise both the ‘sunflower lanyard’ which is prevalent in the UK and also our own symbol which is established across our network worldwide.
“We are the first airline in the world to have a system like this in place to help customers with a range of hidden disabilities.
“We have a robust booking process which allows us to share information securely with teams to ensure customers have a seamless journey.
“We encourage customers to visit the special assistance page on the website to find out more and to get in touch with our special assistance team.”