Travel Tips & Articles

Flying Guide for Disabled Travelers

For people with disabilities, traveling can be a challenge. This is particularly true for people with certain disabilities and requirements, such as the need for a wheelchair. Although the crowds, narrow isles and seating on airplanes can inspire anxiety, travel by plane is something that is accomplished on a regular basis. Airlines and their personnel are trained and equipped to meet the needs of their disabled passengers. There are however certain steps the disabled passengers must take to ensure that they are comfortable, properly accommodated and that their equipment is well cared for during the trip.

Selecting the Right Flight

When a person is disabled, choosing the right flight takes more than just a random selection. There are certain requirements that should be met before booking travel with any airline. Ideally, a non-stop flight is the best option to reduce the number of times the traveler has to get on and off the plane. Reducing the number of transfers will help to reduce the likelihood of problems and will make the trip less stressful. Unfortunately, a non-stop flight is not always an option. When this is the case, the disabled traveler should select a flight with a long layover. This will ensure that he or she has time to make their next flight, especially if they use a wheelchair. When a passenger uses a wheelchair, it isn't uncommon to be the last passenger to leave the plane.

It is also important to book a flight that will provide the most comfort. First or business class will typically have seats that are more comfortable and that have more space. Booking a business or first class seat is more expensive, however, and is not an affordable option for everyone. When flying coach, a bulkhead seat is often desirable because of the extra space.

To ensure that these requirements are met, it is important to speak with someone when making plans. A travel agent familiar with scheduling flights for people with disabilities is ideal, and can help the consumer make the right choices. While the Internet is a popular way to book a flight, it may not provide all of the information that is needed to book the best flight. When selecting a flight online, it is best to speak with an agent before finalizing any plans.

Communicate with the Airline in Advance

It is important to communicate with the airline in advance of the travel date. This allows them to make any special arrangements to accommodate the passenger's disability. To do this, most airlines use what is known as Standard Interline Passenger Procedures codes. These codes will give the airline the proper information to ensure that the passenger's needs are met and to reduce unnecessary delays.

In addition, by talking to the airline representatives, the customer can ask questions and make any special requests that will help improve their travel experience. A person who is traveling by wheelchair, for example, may need to confirm that there will be someone who is able to help him or her transfer from their wheelchair to what is known as an aisle or boarding chair. An aisle chair is a chair with wheels that is narrow enough to fit between the aisles of seats on the plane. These chairs are often used to take wheelchair-bound passengers to their seats on the plane. Travelers should confirm all arrangements and special requests 48 hours before the flight to reduce the likelihood of unexpected surprises.

Preparing for the Trip

Before a person travels, there are several necessary preparations that must be made. Well before the date of travel, an appointment should be set to see his or her physician. The doctor will ensure that all prescriptions are filled, any necessary immunizations are given, and generally give the go-ahead to travel. The traveler should also make a list of any needed medical supplies and extra equipment to ensure that they are packed and taken on the trip. It is also important to bring a pillow for comfort and carry important medications in a carry-on in the event that luggage is lost.

Items such as wheelchairs and scooters will also need to be properly prepared for easy identification and to ensure a smooth and safe trip. A label should be placed in a location that is highly visible and should include a name, the departure gate, a home address or the address to where the passenger is staying when his or her destination is reached. When it comes to wheelchairs, it is also important to have them thoroughly checked before the flight. Any repairs should be made in advance to ensure that they are in good working order while at the airport and during the length of the trip. In the case of motorized wheelchairs, a person traveling out of the country should verify that the charger is compatible with the voltage in the country that is being visited.

At the Airport

On the day of travel it is important for people to arrive at the airport early enough to go through security and board the plane without worry of missing the flight. Airport security is a necessary reality for all airline travelers. When a person has a disability, going through security can be especially taxing and can take longer depending on the person's disability. The best way to get through security checks with minimal anxiety is to be prepared. A person with a service dog will need keep the animal on a leash or harness when walking through metal detectors, however they should remove tags or any other item that may trigger the alarm. People who are dependent on wheelchairs will be unable to pass through the metal detectors and will need to submit to a search if they are unable to stand and walk through the detector. They should also be prepared to remove any bags, pouches and other devices to be x-rayed while they are searched. Visually impaired travelers should have a companion or ask the airport personnel to help them collect their items after they have been screened.

A person with a wheelchair or scooter should check it at the boarding gate. If the passenger arrives early enough and uses a wheelchair that is a collapsible or foldable, he or she can request that it is stored in the coat closet on board. This is only possible if the passenger arrives early enough and makes the request before any other wheelchair bound passenger. If checking the chair at the gate, the passenger should request that it is bought back to the gate when the plane arrives at its destination.

Be Vocal and Communicate

When a disabled person travels by plane, good customer service is a matter of safety. It is important for the passenger to express his or her needs to the airline personnel. When these needs are ignored, problems can arise. To resolve these issues, the passenger may speak with the available Complaint Resolution Official either in person or by phone. Depending on the severity of the problem, the passenger may get a better resolution by writing the airline with their complaint. The airline must investigate the incident or concern and reply within a 45 day time period. Another effective way to bring attention to a problem is to contact the Department of Transportation in writing. They will contact the airport and review the response to the complaint. Additionally, if the airport has a history of a certain type of complaint, it could be hit with fines as a result.

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