Essential Air Travel Tips for People with Disabilities

24. 11. 2021

Essential Air Travel Tips for People with Disabilities

Travelling by plane is one of the safest ways to get to your desired destination. However, if you live with a disability, you might wince at the thought of crowded airports, long queues, baggage restrictions, and the feeling of being stuck on a plane without your wheelchair.

Luckily, air travel for disabled passengers can still be comfortable and enjoyable despite possible challenges. Read this article to find out how to make the whole process easier—from the tips on how to book your flight and what to pack to boarding your plane and arriving at your destination safe and sound.

Before You Go

You might be dealing with so many questions before deciding to fly somewhere. So where to start? We suggest you first get familiar with your rights as a traveller, actually book the flight, and then start packing.

1 Know Your Rights

Reading about your rights and getting familiar with the laws related to air travel with a disability will help you enormously with your planning and packing. It will also increase your overall confidence as you will always know what to expect or demand in case any issues occur.

Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself or ask for special services. For example: passengers with disabilities are entitled to certain accommodations free of charge, however, you will usually have to ask for this service as it will probably not be offered to you straight away.

Keep in mind that the legislation put in place in different countries is not always the same, so make sure to check what is applicable in the country you are visiting or flying from.

2 Book the Right Flight

Another important part of air travel for wheelchair users is booking the right flight. First of all, this means choosing the right airline, the one with the best customer service flying between your destination of origin and final destination.

Booking a flight with an airline with good reviews would mean that the customer service is on a high level and that the staff on board is attentive and willing to go the extra mile to make your journey even more enjoyable. This is indeed something that should be normal for every airline, however, you would be surprised what you can find on the market.

Additionally, booking the right flight also means taking into consideration the distance you have to travel to get to your destination. If it is short, the best idea is to avoid connecting flights so you do not have to get off and board the plane all over again. On the other hand, travelling long distances would be easier if you break your trip into two flights instead of flying for 12 hours straight. This way, you will be able to stretch and relax between your flights, which might be worth a bit of extra hassle.

Book the right flight to make your experience as pleasant as possible.

Pro air travel tip for people with disabilities: book an aisle seat for some extra room. Opt for a seat toward the front of the plane as you would typically board it through the front door. This also means the way to the toilet will be shorter and the staff will be able to get you there using an aisle wheelchair.

3 Pack Well

Pack strategically and never leave things you cannot live without in your checked baggage. Additionally, remember to pack spare parts and tools in case your wheelchair would need to be disassembled before the flight. Keep in mind that necessary medical equipment does not count toward carry-on items when it comes to air travel for disabled passengers and you are entitled to bring it with you.

Do not forget to put important documents such as your flight documentation, doctor’s note, emergency contacts, medical alert information and other important documents in your carry-on. In case of an emergency, this information will be extremely valuable!

Important: in case your wheelchair operates on wet-cell batteries or something that is not typically allowed on a plane, call the airline ahead and get the necessary information to avoid problems. Have the make/model/type of battery available when making the call.

4 Before Getting to the Airport

The day before your flight, call the airline and the airport you are travelling from to confirm everything and address any concerns you might have.

Before you leave home, take a photo of your wheelchair and other equipment—this will come in handy in case your belongings get damaged during the flight. Write down the contacts you can use if this happens and you want to file a complaint.

Another valuable piece of advice: never wait until the last minute to get to the airport. Plan your transportation ahead and get to your terminal early, i.e. from 2 to 3 hours before a domestic flight. Allow even more time for boarding an international flight.

At the Airport

Once you arrive at the airport, there are quite some things you need to take care of

(Hence the previous tip about getting there early):

1 Checking In

If you have notified the airline or the airport about your air travel with a disability in advance, they will normally designate an employee who will meet you when you arrive to take you to your check-in counter.

In case this is not possible, your first step would be finding your check-in counter to check in your baggage. There you can also let them know you would like to be assigned designated personnel to help you get through security.

Accessible air travel also means you will be given assistance at the airport.

2 Passing Security

You do not need to get out of your wheelchair when passing a security checkpoint. If you cannot walk through the metal detector, the employee will simply give you a pat-down.

At security, certain airports require you to check your wheelchair before clearing security checkpoints. If this happens, they will give you a terminal wheelchair and a designated personnel member (if you do not have one already) to help you navigate through the airport. Do not forget to take all your personal belongings as well as any pillows or anything else you have in your wheelchair as they might get lost during the process.

3 Getting to the Gate

Once you have successfully passed security, the assistant can take you directly to your gate.

When you reach your gate, talk to the airline personnel about pre-boarding. This way, you will be among the first ones to board it, which will make it less crowded and consequently less stressful. Remember to use the toilet before getting on the plane (if you are on a short flight, this could mean you will not have to use the toilet on the plane at all)!

Before boarding the plane, you will be transferred to an aisle-sized wheelchair. In case you travel to the gate using your own wheelchair, now is the moment to remember to take all your personal belongings as well as cushions with you on the plane so nothing gets lost or broken on the way.

Air travel with a disability is not as difficult as it used to be.

On Board

Well, you are more than halfway there, now you only have to relax and enjoy your flight! This might be easier said than done so check out the other air travel tips for people with disabilities we have put together:

1 Stay Occupied

There is normally plenty of things to do on flights! Okay, you are a bit limited when it comes to space, but bigger airlines typically offer free onboard entertainment so you can catch up with the latest TV series, listen to a concert, or play some games.

Long flights are also good for catching some Z’s—put on your eye mask and headphones and doze off.

2 Restroom Access

Getting to the toilet is something disabled travellers are most worried about.

Unfortunately, most planes do not offer accessible toilets, however, flight attendants are trained to help you get to the bathroom with an aisle wheelchair (another reason booking an aisle seat is extremely important).

At the Destination

Congratulations, you have successfully arrived at your destination! Here are three last important air travel tips for people with disabilities to keep in mind on your trip:

1 Arrange Pickup

Having a pre-arranged pickup is definitely a plus and something easily feasible before your flight. Many companies offer wheelchair-friendly transportation that will make your trip from the airport much easier.

2 Find the Right Accommodation

Another thing that should be booked in advance. The main reason for that is accessible rooms in hotels are not always plentiful so you are competing for them with other disabled guests.

Check out more tips for finding the best accommodation for your needs in this article.

3 Book Tours

Booking a tour is the best thing to do if you truly want to explore new places as much as possible. Experienced tour guides are an amazing source of all sorts of information about the city you are visiting.

If your travel destination includes Slovenia, you can choose from many different options for all tastes—from tours for the ones enjoying the seaside to more adventurous trips for those who like that adrenaline rush. There truly are no limits!

As you can see, flying for people with disabilities is not as stressful as it used to be. Airlines have successfully adapted to the accessible air travel demands and with some planning, you can look forward to a safe and relaxing journey!