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Sunflower lanyard scheme – helping those with hidden disabilities and invisible illnesses

Sunflower lanyard scheme – helping those with hidden disabilities and invisible illnesses

Back in 2015, CAA passenger research found that many people who suffer with hidden disabilities or debilitating conditions lacked confidence to travel. According to charity databases, in the UK around 700,000 people live with autism, a further million have learning disabilities, 850,000 have dementia and around 11 million suffer from hearing loss. These are only some of the conditions which can make traveling abroad that little bit harder.

We’re happy to report times are certainly now changing toward catering for all needs, hidden or visible. Many airports across the UK have now recognised their environment may not be well suited to everyone and it’s not only those with visible needs that may benefit from some extra support.

The Sunflower Lanyard Scheme

Little girl hiding face behind a sunflower in sunflower field

Bazukina Masha/

Introducing the sunflower lanyard. This amazing item is understated and simple. It gives those who need to be in the know immediate recognition that a traveller may need more assistance. Be that helping to keep an area calm for someone with autism, allowing extra time for those who are anxious or allowing a person who’s suffering from an IBD flare to get through an airport in the most efficient way possible. You’ll no longer need to experience the awkwardness of trying to explain your symptoms or trying to prove that you need access to certain areas or just some extra help – you’ll simply just receive it.

How can wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower benefit you?

( 2019)

The sunflower symbol acts as a discreet sign to inform staff or any person that the wearer or someone with them has a hidden disability or condition that may require them needing some extra assistance. Staff whom work within places operating this system have likely went through training regarding awareness of hidden conditions. So you can feel comfortable that those who acknowledge the lanyard, have been trained to give tailored support to each individual when needed.

The sunflower lanyard is a national scheme and one that already operates in UK airports but also among railways and even in certain supermarkets. So not only will it help you during times of travel, it could also benefit you in everyday life too! TUI have recently pushed this system out into their retail stores as well as their airport bases. Allowing those who may struggle to even contemplate booking a holiday due to their hidden disability, to feel cared for through each and every interaction.

Staff are trained to acknowledge the sunflower symbol, if you wish you can choose to wear just the lanyard without the additional ID card.

Sunflower Lanyards take off

TUI Customers wearing sunflower lanyards on flight

First adopted by Gatwick Airport in May 2016, the sunflower scheme now operates throughout many of the UK’s busiest airports, although some airports have altering methods of identification.

Airport Means of identification
Aberdeen Green Lanyard
Belfast City Green Lanyard
Belfast International Sunflower Lanyard
Birmingham Sunflower Lanyard
Bournemouth Assistance Lanyard
Bristol Sunflower Lanyard
Cardiff Wristband
Doncaster Sheffield White and Blue Wristband
East Midlands Green Lanyard
Edinburgh Sunflower Lanyard
Exeter Multi-coloured Lanyard
Glasgow Green Lanyard
Humberside Lanyard
Inverness Sunflower Lanyard
Leeds Bradford Lanyard
Liverpool John Lennon Butterfly Voucher
London City Sunflower Lanyard
London Gatwick Sunflower Lanyard
London Heathrow Sunflower Lanyard
London Luton Yellow Sticker
London Southend Blue Wristband
Manchester Sunflower Lanyard
Newcastle Hidden Disabilities Passport
Norwich International Blue Wristband
Southampton Green Lanyard

Newcastle International Airport for example have put in place their own ‘passport’. Travellers are able to print this at home before travel and can then show this at each touch point throughout the airport. It provides slightly more information to staff and security personal, enabling them to quickly adjust situations and help you in the best way possible for your needs.

Each airport listed above has given hidden disability training to their staff and have consulted with disability organisations as of April 2018. All airports also grant familiarisation visits and many give wearers of lanyards access to their assistance or fast track lanes to make the process of getting through security that little bit easier.

Manchester airport even have their own Sunflower Room in Terminal 1 which is there to aid Special Assistance Guests who may need a break away from the crowds, noise, bright lights and just general airport hustle and bustle. People in need can relax here and hopefully feel calm in this quieter environment.

With more and more airports getting onboard with the scheme, we’d always recommend checking out their direct websites for further information surrounding their offerings.

What TUI does

TUI have recently introduced the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme into their retail stores but have been a supporter from their airport bases across much of the UK&I for many years. Marina Snellenberg, PRM & Accessibility Manager spoke previously of the airport implementation, saying:

“Travelling with a hidden disability can be daunting, but initiatives such as the sunflower lanyard can really make a difference.  It’s been great to see a growing number of airports joining in with this project, allowing people who wouldn’t have travelled before to gain confidence, and experience their first holiday.  It’s also helping to raise awareness about the importance of accessibility throughout the customer’s journey.”

TUI colleagues taking part in the Gatwick Airport disability day

As this has worked so well within airports, TUI’s Accessibility team decided to further implement the scheme throughout more of their services, which led to the introduction of lanyards being offered in retail stores. TUI staff are now able to distribute lanyards to their retail customers, with colleagues having taken part in an e-learning about raising awareness of hidden disabilities.

Feedback from customers so far has been really positive! One customer has spoke of her experience using the lanyard scheme when traveling alongside a person with ADHD, the customer said: “The service we got from the airport was amazing. He got priority check in, priority boarding and the staff at every opportunity made a real effort to talk to him and reassure him. The training they have had is so effective”.

TUI have said they are seeing an increased number of customers travelling that could benefit from some extra assistance. The Sunflower Lanyard scheme is there to raise further awareness of this and will hopefully provide a much easier booking process for those who require it.

Where can I get a Sunflower Lanyard?

Girl hiding half of face behind sunflower whilst smiling


You may be wondering if you need to come armed with proof of your hidden condition. You’ll be please to know, this really isn’t needed! The Sunflower Lanyard Scheme is simply here to highlight that you have a hidden disability or illness, and therefore it should be noted this is not an automatic fast pass, and does not entitle you to anything. However feel secured that supporters will do there best to help in anyway they can.

It is felt in some cases, an official diagnosis may take a long time and therefore it would be unfair and unkind for those currently not diagnosed to miss out on this extra support. There is also no qualifying list of hidden disabilities, so don’t worry about being turned away. If you feel the scheme will benefit you, it’s there to be used!

There are many ways in which you can collect a Sunflower Lanyard, some of these are as follows:

Airports: If you’re due to fly from one of the above listed airports, you should be able to ask for a lanyard from your airport’s assistance desk. Some airports may allow you to order one in advance, so it’s always a good idea to get in contact before you travel.

Retail: Head to the customer service desk to enquire about collecting a lanyard. There are only certain supermarkets who currently support the scheme, mainly being M&S, Tesco and Sainsburys. So it’s always best to check if your local store participates first. You can also pop to your local TUI travel store and ask a member of staff if you can collect one.

Hospitals: The NHS also operate the sunflower lanyard scheme. So you can always pop along to your local hospital’s main reception area who may have stock there, or will otherwise be able to tell you where you can collect a lanyard from.

Alternatively you will always be able to purchase one yourself online from the Hidden Disabilities Store who have various options available.