Flying with a disability or medical condition? If you’re a frequent traveller or a one time flyer, it is important to make your trip by air as straightforward and comfortable as possible.
Recently, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) put new guidance in place. It’s to ensure those flying with a disability get the dignity they deserve when travelling by air. Amongst other important points, this guidance stipulates that airlines and handling agents transport all mobility aids with care.
In this blog we’ll show you how to fly with dignity from boarding to disembarking. First, let’s look at the new guidance in place to help you travel, with confidence.
What new guidance is in place for those flying with a disability?
The below guidance will enhance the industry’s best practices and will be revised and expanded over time.
- You’ll notice there are better processes when you book.
- More information is being exchanged across the travel chain before your flight.
- Passenger Name Requirement (PNR) codes and Special Service Request (SSR) will be shared to give advance information about the specification of your mobility aid. A Special Service Request (SSR) is a message sent direct to suppliers to communicate your unique travel preferences, or procedural requirements. Each SSR is supported for both air and rail bookings.
- An electronic mobility aid tag will be fixed to your mobility aid. It’ll contain technical information to ensure the airline and ground handler can transport it safely.
- Airlines will have more advice on how to generate a communications toolkit if you have a disability. For instance, use of an easy to access website or website area.
- Best practices will be in place when loading, collecting, and returning your mobility aids.
- All guidance will be in place if a mobility aid happens to be damaged.
- Airports will be designed to meet all accessibility standards.
Overall, the training of ground handlers and airline staff continues to be enhanced. This will give everyone flying with a disability the dignity they deserve.
Read the in-depth guide on the transportation of mobility aids found on the IATA website.
How to approach flying with a disability or medical condition
It is to their credit that the accessibility of many public places – including airports – will continue to improve. However, challenges still exist for those 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, or anyone who has difficulty with social interaction and communication are entitled to special assistance. If you’re travelling with someone who has dementia for instance, you can view all our travel tips here.
Outwith the EU, similar laws were put 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. So, always check a couple of weeks before leaving home.
Assistance when flying with a disability
Getting to a plane, boarding it, negotiating it and then disembarking upon arrival can pose various challenges for disabled travellers.
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 into the cabin
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 your needs, staff can assist with any pre-arranged special provisions. For example, they can arrange security checks away from the queue of other passengers to reduce anxiety. Also, they can make special arrangements to cater for medical aids that are worn under clothing – such as insulin pumps.
When the time comes to board the flight, assistance staff can arrange for you to make your way onto the flight first, and ensure you reach your seat safely and in comfort.
Mobility and medical equipment
If you’re using one make the airline aware of any electric mobility aid, such as a wheelchair or scooter, ahead of time. It’s wise to check with them if there are any restrictions. Also, discuss how the equipment can be loaded and stowed onto the aircraft safely.
The same applies to anything required on the flight – for example an oxygen supply.
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’s for this reason that they have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can fly in comfort and safety.
Prior to travel, it’s important to discuss your needs with your doctor or health advisor in the first instance. Then with the airline. They can each give advice on the assistance you may require and what is available in advance.
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 cater to your 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 in advance of your travel date is vital to learn what facilities are available and how staff can help you. It’s 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, you might need assistance to disembark to make your way to your 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 and safe travels. Of course, it is crucial that specialist travel insurance is in place should anything unfortunate happen. This will cover you should you, for example, incur damage to a medical aid, or have to cancel due to a declared disability or medical condition.