It was 2008 during the massive banking crisis when I boarded a plane to Frankfurt at London City Airport to deliver training for Lufthansa’s flight attendants, a journey I did many times before. This time was different. Instead of worrying if the plane was overbooked, I was shocked to see that the flight was virtually empty. I had a staff ticket. The only other passengers on board were several older couples on their way to a short trip to Germany. There was not a single business traveller on my plane, starting from London’s business airport. The only passengers left were pensioners and me with a ticket paid for by Lufthansa.
A challenging relationship
When I joined the railway industry in January, I didn’t expect in my wildest dreams what would happen to this industry only three months after I joined. I had decided to leave journalism covering UK current affairs for German media outlets, a job I wanted to do since I could read. The reason why I wanted to become a journalist is the same motivation why I decided to agree to an offer to become Head of Accessibility — impact. I could see I would have an impact in an industry which maybe has the most challenging relationship with the disability community of all industries in the UK.
Then COVID-19 hit us hard; the trains were as empty as the Lufthansa flight in 2008. That didn’t mean less work or less impact for me. My team and I worked hard to make sure that the new COVID-19 conditions still were as accessible as possible. We checked crowd-control systems, new timetables, wrote staff briefing after staff briefing. And I heard the same what I heard in 2008 at Lufthansa — if the business travellers stay away we must serve the leisure traveller. That also means we must become more accessible.
At the same time, we started to implement a new Accessible Travel Programme at GTR, which drives change on all levels of the organisation when it comes to accessibility.
Disabled people often get the feeling that they are not seen as customers. And there are very valid reasons why they are feeling that way.