Older people and those with some disability like to be as mobile as possible for as long as possible. If one boards a bus in the middle of the day it is full of older people. Older people make great use of trains as well. They would make more use of aeroplanes too, particularly to visit friends and family, if airports were not as intimidating as they are. I express an interest here as I refer in part to experiences I have seen with my mother-in-law who lives in the west of Scotland and who is in her early eighties.
Aer Rianta provides wheelchairs to take people from check-in to departure. In the early morning there is an awful lot of queuing involved, particularly as it puts together different regional destinations. In Britain it is all the one queue. It is very intimidating for an older person to the extent that people ask if they will go through with it again. Often there is nowhere to sit down. When people get in the wheelchair they might like to stop at the duty free but there is no opportunity to do so.
The case I am making is not just a social and humanitarian one, it is also a commercial one. There is a big untapped market for older people if conditions were right at big airports. Obviously there is no problem at small airports such as Farranfore which is easy to get around. Air operators are missing a big opportunity. People want to travel but, clearly, air travel in the larger airport is for the able-bodied. It is not for those who, with the best will in the world, are not able to travel long distances or to wait on their feet for long periods.
In the context of talking about new terminals at, say, Dublin Airport, whether under Aer Rianta or private management, I urge the Minister – I thank him for coming in to take this matter – to look at the design of the airport from the point of view of this untapped market. For example, why not have a special seating area, a type of waiting room with special check-in desks where people could be called one by one, for those who have impaired mobility or who are not able to stand for long periods? The airports could be made much more humane.
I am a greater admirer of Ryanair. However, I went to the desk for a timetable and I was informed it does not issue timetables anymore, they are all on the Internet. I accept Ryanair is not in the Minister's jurisdiction in any shape or from. For an older person over the age of 60, who may not have a younger person living with them who could do the booking on the Internet, this is not friendly. We have got to stop making life more difficult for older people. They have rights and want to enjoy life. They want to have normal social contact.
I accept that the possibility for adaptation is limited within an existing Bill, but I urge the Minister in the context of planning for the future to see if we could not be a pioneer country in providing and specifically catering for the needs of the older person and the person who is partially disabled. This would improve not only their quality of life, but increase throughput through airports and increase the number of persons who are able to travel. There is both self-interest and idealism involved.