Flying can be a daunting experience for anyone, but for individuals with disabilities, it can be even more challenging. Navigating airport security, boarding the plane, and finding appropriate seating can all present obstacles. However, with the right preparation and understanding of what to expect, flying with a disability can be a comfortable and enjoyable experience. In this blog post, we will discuss the different types of disabilities and the ways in which airport and airline staff can help on the ground and in the air. We will also provide tips on what you can do to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Understanding Your Disability
The first step in preparing for a flight is to understand your disability and what accommodations you may require. Different disabilities require different types of assistance, and it's important to know what you need ahead of time. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair will require different accommodations than someone who is blind or deaf. Some disabilities, such as autism or anxiety, may not be visible, but can still greatly impact a person's ability to travel. It's important to inform the airline and airport of your disability and the accommodations you will need, as early as possible, so that they can make the necessary arrangements. This can often be done during booking.
Communicating Your Needs
Once you have a clear understanding of your disability and the accommodations you require, it's important to communicate this information to the airline and airport staff. Most airlines allow you to select a "special needs" option during booking. However, many also have a dedicated customer service department for individuals with disabilities, and you can contact them to let them know what you will need. It's also a good idea to let the airline know in advance if you will be traveling with any special equipment, such as a mobility device, so that they can make arrangements to transport it.
Going through security
When traveling through TSA (Transportation Security Administration) in the United States, it's important to bring all relevant documents and inform the TSA Cares helpline of your disability and accommodations needed at least 72 hours before your flight. It's also a good idea to locate special help points and check-in counters at the airport for travelers with mobility restrictions and to inform yourself about the location of disabled parking spaces. Keep in mind that there may be longer wait times, so try to arrive early for your flight.
Other countries have different process and helpline for their own security screenings. Ahead of time, you should research the location of the special help points, check-in counters, pick-up points or check-in counters for travelers with mobility restrictions. You should also inform yourself about the location of disabled parking spaces at the airport. Keep in mind that there may be longer wait times, so try to arrive early for your flight.
It is important to be aware that some items, such as mobility devices and medical equipment may require additional screening, and you should inform the TSA staff or the equivalent in other countries, in advance of any items that may cause issues during the screening process. This may include medical devices like heart pacemakers, cochlear implants or prostheses.
Other things to consider is that in some countries you may need to bring special documents for specific medications, such as psychopharmaceuticals, painkillers and so on, it's good idea to inform yourself ahead of time with the respective authorities. Also, be prepared for some questions to be repeated, such as if someone using a wheelchair can walk or not, Wheelchair users may be required to stand or leave their chair during security screenings. If this is not possible, the security check will be done while the person is seated. If the wheelchair is checked in as baggage, you will be accompanied by airport staff. Keep in mind that airport staff may not be able to assist with eating and drinking.
Boarding the Plane
Once you have passed through security, it's time to board the plane. Most airlines will offer priority boarding for individuals with disabilities, so make sure to inform the gate agent that you need this service. If you are traveling with a mobility device, such as a wheelchair, the airline will often make arrangements to have it stowed in the cargo hold. If you will be needing any assistance getting to your seat, let the flight attendant know, and they will be happy to assist you.
On the flight, it's important to inform the flight attendant of any accommodations you may need. If you are blind or visually impaired, the flight attendant can provide verbal descriptions of the safety features of the plane. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, they can provide visual cues, such as flashing lights, in the event of an emergency. If you require additional space for a mobility device, the flight attendant can help you find an appropriate seat.
In-flight Entertainment and Meals
Most airlines offer a range of in-flight entertainment options, such as movies and TV shows, which are often accessible for individuals with disabilities. For example, closed captioning is available for many in-flight movies, and audio descriptions are available for some TV shows.
If you have any special meal requirements, such as a gluten-free or low-sodium diet, it's important to inform the airline in advance so that they can make arrangements.
Arriving at Your Destination
When you arrive at your destination, the airline will make arrangements to have your mobility device returned to you as soon as possible (there will often be an airport worker waiting for you at the Gate). If you require assistance getting to baggage claim or transportation, let the flight attendant know and they will arrange for someone to assist you. It's also a good idea to inform the hotel or transportation service you will be using of your disability and any accommodations you may need, so that they can make the necessary arrangements.
In some cases, such as international travel, you may need special documentation to prove your disability and the accommodations you require. This can include a letter from a healthcare professional, or a passport with a special symbol indicating your disability. Make sure to check the requirements for the country you will be visiting and to have the necessary documentation with you.
Flying with a disability can present its own set of challenges, but with the right preparation and understanding of what to expect, it can be a comfortable and enjoyable experience. By understanding your disability and the accommodations you require, communicating your needs to the airline and airport staff, and being aware of the services and assistance available, you can make your journey as smooth as possible. Remember to inform the airline in advance, contact TSA Cares, and check what is required to travel abroad. Remember you have rights and airlines are bound by law to make reasonable accommodations, so don't hesitate to ask for help or to bring up any concerns you have.
Images in this postMan in a Wheelchair via pixabay.com
A Swiss A220 with Jetbridge connected via unsplash.com