In our previous blog, we gave an overview of the assistance that is available in and around airports for travellers with additional needs. Now we move on to the actual flight itself. How can you make a journey by air as straightforward and comfortable as possible when you are flying with a disability or medical condition?
How to approach flying with a disability or medical condition
It is to their credit that the accessibility of many public places – including airports – continues to improve. However, various challenges still exist for users flying with a disability or medical condition. These can be due to the travellers’ needs, necessary space restraints and vital safety considerations on-board an aircraft, among other things.
What are your rights?
In the EU, there are services that airports and airlines must make available for those flying with a disability or reduced mobility.
The elderly, those with a physical disability and anyone who has difficulty with social interaction and communication are entitled to special assistance.
Outwith the EU, similar laws are in place in some countries but not others. Be aware that in some locations these services are unavailable and in others they will require a fee.
Assistance when flying with a disability
Getting to a plane, boarding it, negotiating it and then disembarking upon arrival each pose various challenges for disabled users. However, help and assistance is available.
Boarding the aircraft
In the airport, special assistance points are set up to provide access to staff that can assist with the following:
- checking into the flight and depositing baggage
- reaching and proceeding through security
- moving through the departure lounge to the required gate
- boarding the plane and assisting with the stowing of any mobility aids that cannot come onto the flight
To ensure there is someone available when you get to the airport, make sure you book at least 48 hours prior to travel.
Special requirements in the concourse
Depending on the needs of the user, staff can also assist with any pre-arranged special provisions. For example, they can arrange security checks away from the queue of other passengers. They can also make special arrangements to cater for medical aids that worn under the clothing – such as insulin pumps.
When the time comes to board the flight, assistance staff can arrange for disabled flyers to make their way onto the flight first, and ensure that they reach their seat safely and in comfort.
Mobility and medical equipment
If one is used, make the airline aware of any electric mobility aids, such as wheelchairs or scooters, ahead of time. It is wise to check with them if there are any restrictions, and discuss how the equipment can be loaded and stowed onto the aircraft safely.
The same applies to anything required on flight – for example an oxygen supply.
Bear in mind that airlines are obliged to allow passengers to travel with two pieces of mobility equipment free of charge. However, depending on the item, you may have to stow these in the hold.
It is worth providing as much information as possible on the equipment, including:
- the make and model of the device
- its dimensions – including when it is ‘collapsed’ (if applicable)
- its weight
- the size and weight of the battery
- how to fully deactivate the power
- details of how to disassemble and re-assemble the device
Providing a copy of the operating manual to the airline may be worthwhile, especially for the last two points.
During the flight
Airlines are by their nature very confined spaces with specific safety requirements. It is for this reason that they have a responsibility to ensure that every traveller can fly in comfort and safety.
Prior to travel, it is important to discuss your needs with your doctor or health advisor in the first instance, and then with the airline. They can each give advice on the assistance you may require and what is available.
Airline staff must deliver essential information about the flight to all users in accessible formats. Call the airline to make them aware of any alternative requirements in plenty of time so that they can then cater for these requests. If necessary, the airline should deliver a personal safety briefing.
Access to restrooms
Airline staff must assist passengers to and from the toilet, using on-board wheelchairs if required.
Again, opening a dialogue with the airline as far in advance of the travel date is vital to learn what facilities are available and how staff can help. It is also the perfect opportunity to request seats with additional legroom and / or nearer to the restrooms.
Food & Drink
Many airlines now allow passengers to make meal choices in advance of travel. This is an opportunity to report any dietary requirements, and any arrangements that are required.
Once the plane lands, anyone flying with a disability will need assistance to disembark and make their way to their final destination. Again, arranging this with the airline in advance will make all the difference.
They should be able to give advice on assistance services available in the airport when you arrive at the destination.
We hope everyone enjoys a pleasant flying experience. This includes that specialist insurance is in place should anything unfortunate happen. This will cover you should you incur damage to a medical aid, or have to cancel due to a declared disability or medical condition.