By Kim Donahue
DisaboomAir travel is becoming more accessible as the airline industry is becoming more aware of the viable market people with disabilities represent. We as consumers with disabilities can make the most of every opportunity to educate the businesses that provide us with the goods and services when we tell them what we need. Travelers with disabilities are encouraged to identify themselves to airline personnel and specify their needs. The more we let our needs be known, the more likely it is that our needs will be met. And that is good for everyone. We have listed below some tips we have discovered in our travels and a few we obtained from friends and colleagues who are independent travelers as well.
The greatest challenges for people with visual impairments when traveling by air are finding their seats, locating the washroom and identifying their luggage once they arrive at their destination.
- Before you start to travel be sure your itinerary is written out in large print.
- At the time you are making flight reservations let the airlines know about your visual impairment.
Talk to an agent or review the airline’s website for information about traveling with a cane or service animal.
- When you check in at the airport identify yourself to an agent while pre-boarding. Staff will be there to help and will escort you directly to your seat.
- Once on board, count the number of seats there are to reach the washroom and the nearest emergency exit.
- Visually impaired travelers should know the exact size and color of their luggage to identify it in case it gets lost. A large colorful decal or logo on the outside of your bag can help to easily identify it at the baggage carousel.For wheelchair and scooter users planning is the key to have a safe and comfortable trip when traveling by air.
- Reservations should be made as far in advance as possible, but be sure to confirm your reservation and any special request 48 hours prior to departure.
- Identify yourself as a person with a disability and inform the reservation person that you will be traveling with a wheelchair or scooter.
- Also request if you will need:
a. a seat with movable armrests
b. an aisle chair for boarding
c. an accessible restroom
d. a bulkhead seat
e. an aisle seat.
- If you use a fold up manual wheelchair, you can request that it be stowed in the on-board coat closet. There is only room for one wheelchair and the service is available on a first come first service basis, so you should arrive early to make your request. Plus not all planes have a coat closet.Damage Control
It would be a good idea to travel with your old, back-up wheelchair. Remove seat cushion and any other parts that could easily become separated from the chair. Take these items into the cabin with you. Or you can put the disassembled parts in the cardboard box and use bubble wrap to protect them from damage. Attach instructions on scooters or power chairs details how and where to disconnect the batteries, also instructions for any disassembly that may be required.
- When going through security let the screener know your level of ability (e.g., whether you can stand or perform an arm lift).
- Don’t hesitate to ask security personnel for assistance either to put your items on the X-ray belt, to monitor your items when you are in the X-ray inspection, or to reunite you with them once the screening process is completed.
- Inform the screener about any special equipment or devices that you are using and can’t be removed from your body so that alternative security procedures can be applied if needed.
Boarding and Deplaning
- If you need assistance transferring to the plane seat, take responsibility for yourself and tell the staff how to help you or pick you up, etc. Yes, they should be trained, but you are always safer not assuming anything.
- Before landing remind the flight attendant that you need your equipment brought to the gate so they can radio ahead to make the arrangements. This can help speed things up.
- If you have any problems or damage ask to speak to the “Complaint Resolution Officer” (CRO). Each air carrier is required to have a CRO available by phone or in person at all times. This person is specially trained in dealing with problems that travelers with disabilities may encounter.Traveling with Oxygen
More than one million Americans live with medical oxygen due to chronic lung diseases, and the number is rising over 5% every year. Because of the progression of technology, traveling with oxygen is not considered frightening anymore.
Planning in advance will help you have a comfortable and safe flight.
- Get a physician’s statement of your oxygen needs. Airlines may need it to make sure it is safe for you to fly.
- It is usually allowable to bring medical equipment on board as long as it is powered by non-spillable batteries. However, all airlines require you to check your oxygen and use their oxygen while in flight. You may need to request the flight oxygen as far in advance as possible since some airlines need seven days to arrange it.
- Generally, you can use your portable oxygen equipment until boarding. Then empty the cylinder and bring it on as carry-on baggage. You will need to refill your cylinder after the flight. Check the airline to find out where and when it can be done.
- All airlines charge for oxygen, and the prices generally vary from $50 to $150 per flight. It is better to take a direct flight since some airlines charge oxygen per leg, and all airlines don’t provide oxygen during layovers. If you need oxygen during layovers, you may need to contact the first aid stations in airports and make arrangements separately.
- Check what flow the airlines can provide, and see if they have the supplies such as a mask or nasal cannula. Some airlines may allow you to bring your own cannula.
- If you can pass the security screening system without turning on your oxygen systems, you can be examined the same as other people. If you cannot pass the screening gate without turning it on, a special screening/examination such as a private physical search may be provided.
- Don’t forget to confirm the arrangement 48 hours before your flight. First published by — and used with permission of Disaboom (www.disaboom.com)