US carrier United Airlines has today announced its intention to introduce braille signs on planes, with the addition of tactile placards and signage to its aircraft cabins. The move will allow greater independence to visually impaired travellers and unlock a new level of accessibility to customers, a fleetwide first in the aviation world.
The airline plans to add raised lettering and braille to signs labelling row and seat numbers, and to signs directing customers to the onboard lavatories. According to a managing director at the airline, mainline fleet aircraft will be retrofitted with the new, unique signage during the new ‘United Next’ cabin upgrades. For the aircraft already fitted with the new-style cabins, braille signs will be added during periods of regular maintenance downtime. Reportedly, around a dozen of United’s planes are already fitted with braille signs, and the airline plans to have its entire fleet fitted with updated signage by 2026.
Flying whilst blind
Travelling, particularly by air, can be a challenge with any kind of disability – but particularly for those with reduced or no vision. Aircraft cabins are cramped, narrow spaces and the majority of safety guidance – as well as location (seat rows, seat numbers, and lavatories) – is solely visual.
Some airlines carry a limited number of safety cards with braille information for their blind or partially sighted customers. At many airlines, cabin crew are required to deliver a personal safety briefing to these customers, allowing them to feel the safety equipment normally demonstrated in the cabin. But this alone can’t alleviate all the anxiety when travelling with a disability.
Accessibility in air travel
There are some individual aircraft – or airline fleets – in the US with some braille signage (usually in the lavatory), but this move will make United the first US carrier to universally display tactile braille signs on planes. Last year, United announced another increase in its inclusivity with the addition of plant-based menu items from Impossible Foods.
Accessibility is a hot topic in the world of aviation. Whether it comes to boarding an aircraft, safe handling of accessibility and mobility aids such as wheelchairs, lavatory access or seating options – not to mention the potential implications of an evacuation – there’s much to discuss. With Delta unveiling its new wheelchair-friendly seating prototype earlier this year, accessibility and inclusivity in aviation is – finally – on the rise. But there’s still a long way to go.
“We acknowledge (placards) isn’t a world-changing event,” says United, “(but) we believe that the more accessible United can be to all customers, the better it is for everybody.”