Lithuanian airports are open to everyone. However, only a few people know about the free services that the company can provide to every passenger with special needs. That is why Lithuanian Airports has invited over 20 different organisations and associations that bring together people with disabilities, or travellers with special needs, to share their experiences and discuss how to increase the visibility of these free services.
"We are witnessing the transformation of the public sector and business, adapting to everyone's needs without exception. Lithuanian Airports is the absolute flagbearer of this transformation, fully prepared to serve every passenger. It is important that this message is heard as widely as possible, as not everyone is yet aware of the opportunities they have to benefit from convenient and, most importantly, free services," emphasises Agnė Vaiciukevičiūtė, Vice-Minister of Communications.
According to Simon Bartkus, CEO of Lithuanian Airports, improving the passenger experience is a long-term priority for the company. "Both in the construction of the new departure terminal in Vilnius and in the renewal of the entire infrastructure of Lithuanian Airports, great attention is paid to the different needs of passengers in order to fully ensure everyone's right to move freely, choose freely and not be discriminated against. We are constantly discussing this with our partners, and special training is periodically provided to staff to ensure that they are able to provide all the necessary assistance to passengers whose special needs are caused by a visible or invisible disability," emphasises S. Bartkus.
The number of travellers is growing
In 2022, Lithuanian airports handled almost 12,000 passengers with special needs. This figure is three times higher than in 2014. However, Rasa Petraitienė, Head of Passenger Experience Management at Lithuanian Airports, says that in fact there are far more people with disabilities travelling each year, but a large proportion of them do not request special services. As a result, it is impossible to say exactly how many people actually travel through airports who have, for example, invisible disabilities such as speech, hearing, vision, asthma, diabetes or other disabilities.
According to general statistics, around 1 in 7 people in Lithuania has a disability. Thus, when looking at the passenger traffic at Lithuanian airports, the number of passengers with special needs should be increased several-fold.
"People with disabilities want to travel just like everyone else. Air transport is no exception, as according to statistics it is the safest and, of course, the fastest way to travel long distances that people with disabilities cannot travel by land due to their health conditions. There are a number of myths that persist at the moment, such as that disabled people are uncomfortable travelling by plane and that it is particularly difficult and confusing to get around at the airport. It is very important that Lithuanian airports help to dispel them and encourage everyone to travel," says Žilvinas Mišeikis, President of the Association "Independent Life".
From welcome to priority in security checks
Lithuanian Airports advise persons with reduced mobility or other disabilities who have purchased their flight tickets in advance to book the assistance they require by informing the airline or the agency through which they purchased their tickets. This should preferably be done no later than 48 hours before the scheduled flight.
People with disabilities can get to airports comfortably and safely by using the Social Taxi service coordinated by the National Institute for Social Integration (to all three airports in the country), the Order of Malta's service for people with disabilities, Važiuojam (to Vilnius and Kaunas airports), and Asistentinis Taxi (to Vilnius airport).
All three Lithuanian airports have emergency call buttons in the approaches to their airports and specially marked waiting areas in the terminals. At the push of a button, passengers are met by staff trained to provide the necessary assistance to passengers with disabilities. They receive luggage and take care of departure procedures such as checking in luggage, moving around the terminal and boarding the aircraft. Accordingly, passengers with disabilities are met on board the aircraft upon arrival in Lithuania and escorted to the point of departure from the airport.
Lithuanian airports use special vehicles or a special stairway to take passengers with reduced mobility to and from the aircraft.
Airports also offer free wheelchair access, and terminals are equipped with toilets, lifts or elevators for disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility.
In addition, Lithuanian Airports were the first in the Baltic States to join the international social project "Sunflower of Invisible Disability". The aim is to make it easier for people with invisible disabilities to identify their needs and for airport staff to identify passengers whose disabilities are not immediately apparent. At Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga airports, a special sunflower ribbon is available at check-in desks, and staff are trained to recognise it and are ready to give more time and attention to the passenger wearing it.
You can find out more about services for passengers with special needs on each airport's website.