Travelport campaigns use of code that alerts airlines to disability needs

Team Jordan arriving at the Special Olympics MENA Games 2018

With the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 round the corner, Travelport has launched a campaign to improve awareness and use of the DPNA Special Service Request (SSR) code, which can be used by travel agents and others to alert airlines when a passenger has intellectual or developmental disability and needs assistance.

The campaign was initiated after Travelport observed “exceptionally low use” of the code on bookings made through its GDS. Despite registering more than 250 million flight bookings through its GDS globally in 2018, and an estimated 200 million people worldwide having an intellectual disability (2.6 per cent of the global population), the code was used just 4,309 times (approximately 0.0015 per cent of total flight bookings), according to Travelport. A poll of 136 of travel agents, conducted by Travelport, revealed just 24 per cent know the code exists.

Team Jordan arriving at the Special Olympics MENA Games 2018

Travelport’s six-month long campaign will reach more than 100,000 travel agents in over 30 countries. It features electronic direct mails (EDMs) as well as sign-on-alerts and graphical prompts delivered through the company’s flagship Travelport Smartpoint tool, which is used by travel agents, among others, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms and more.

The EDMs and sign-on-alerts are being shown to its travel agent partners globally, while the prompts are activated when a consultant is at the booking stage of a flight to over 30 of the most popular destinations in the world such as London, New York, Sydney and Delhi.

The prompts are also being shown when any flight is about to be booked to or from the UAE, the country hosting the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 this month.

Travelport has also created a campaign webpage providing guidance for travel agents on talking to travellers about intellectual disabilities and associated assistance.

The digital media used to reach travel agents during the campaign is typically sold by Travelport to travel providers as advertising space. The company has allocated over US$100,000 worth of slots for the DPNA SSR code awareness campaign, which will run until August 31, 2019. Content from the campaign will be displayed to travel agents more than 3.5 million times, making it one of the biggest digital media campaigns the company has ever executed, the company said.

Gordon Wilson, president and CEO of Travelport, said: “Travel can be a particularly challenging time for people who require special assistance, so once we discovered such low use of the DPNA SSR code, we decided to take action… We hope this campaign will not only make a difference in the travel industry but act as a catalyst for other organisations to investigate how their industry or the industry they serve can better support people with intellectual disabilities and make improvements where needed.”

SSR codes are used in the airline industry to communicate traveller preferences or needs, such as requests for wheelchair assistance, to airlines. They are delivered through standardised four-letter codes defined by IATA.

Linda Ristagno, external affairs manager at IATA, said: “We introduced the DPNA SSR code to assist persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are delighted that Travelport has launched this awareness campaign and encourage all our member airlines and travel agents to properly use this and all the other IATA disability codes to ensure that the appropriate support to our valued passengers is provided.”

Extending support to Travelport’s campaign, Asim Arshad, group CEO at Orient Travel and Tourism Agency, said: “We are happy to act on this initiative and ensure that all of our consultants, as a standard part of the booking discussion, ask customers if any of the travelling party has an intellectual or physical disability and needs special assistance from the airline. Asking the question is the first step to ensuring appropriate support is provided. We encourage all travel agents across the world to follow suit.”

Linda Celestino, vice president, guest service and delivery, Etihad Airways, the official airline partner of the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019, said the airline will support the use of the DPNA Special Service Request.

She added: “In preparation for Special Olympics team travel across the Etihad network, our teams have received additional training on how to best support guests with intellectual disabilities.”

The Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019, which starts on March 14 and runs until March 21.

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