Having a disability shouldn’t get in the way of living a fulfilling life involving holidays and adventure. Here at Traveller Chair, one of our main goals is to relieve any potential anxieties surrounding travel and flying with a disability.  

Airport accessibility has progressed massively over the past couple of years. Of course, there are always improvements to be made but with heightened awareness and developments in technology, change is underway. 

If you are someone with additional needs, from physical assistance to communication support, you are legally entitled to necessary help at the airport and on the plane. This also applies to older people and those with a temporary illness or injury. 

Before your flight

Although most airports will have some sort of support in place when it comes to accessibility, it may be a good idea to do your research before booking your flight to ensure the necessary assistance is available. This may even involve visiting or getting in contact beforehand with your selected airport to ease any anxieties surrounding flying with a disability. You will also need to let the airline know at least 48 hours before the departure of your flight if you will be needing any additional assistance. Requesting this will often involve getting medical clearance, therefore it is advised to do this sooner rather than later. This is simply to ensure that you are fit to travel and provide more information about the type of assistance you may need.

If you will need to bring any medication onto the flight that exceeds the 100ml limit for liquids, a copy of your prescription or a doctor’s note should be provided. It is also important to bear in mind that regulations may be different in other countries so this will need to be checked. For more information regarding travelling with medicines, refer to the NHS website. 

Insurance is another aspect of travel that is especially important if you have an illness or disability. Having the appropriate travel insurance will prevent financial implications if any of your equipment gets damaged or you need medical attention when abroad.

Important to note: You can travel with up to two items of mobility equipment, free of charge. This will not count towards your baggage allowance.

At the airport

Upon arrival at the airport, seek out the nearest help point where you can request previously booked special assistance. The staff assigned to assist you can help you throughout the entire process, until you are safely on the plane. If travelling with a companion, they can escort you if you would prefer.

If you are a wheelchair user, you can remain in your chair during security checks. Staff may need to check it or carry out necessary screening. Unfortunately, standard size wheelchairs cannot be taken into the passenger cabin of the plane. In most circumstances, you will be able to keep your wheelchair up until you arrive at the departure gate. Your chair will then be taken into the hold and be replaced with a smaller, transfer wheelchair to fit through the aisles of the plane. You will have had to provide details of the size and model of your mobility equipment beforehand. 

For this reason, one of the main annoyances surrounding flight and airport assistance is the time waiting around for accessibility equipment to be put in place or locating personal or borrowed wheelchairs. This can sadly leave disabled passengers feeling forgotten about or worthless. A lightweight folding wheelchair, that is cabin compliant and can be kept with you at all times, allows you to take back control when flying with a disability. 

It may also be worth researching accessibility measures and assistance available at your destination airport. This will ensure that necessary help is available once you arrive and you will be able to locate your belongings and exit the airport as smoothly as possible. 

On the flight

You would have been assisted in boarding the flight and ensuring you are comfortable. If using your own, lightweight folding wheelchair, this will be safely placed in the overhead cabin storage. Flights, especially long-haul, can be uncomfortable anyway. Flying with a disability can bring increased discomfort on top of this. However, cabin crew will also have been alerted and on hand to provide any assistance you may need during the flight. They will be able to help you in moving around the plane and getting to the toilet. Be aware that they will not be able to assist you inside the toilet. If you will need help with this, it is recommended to travel with a companion. 

When it comes to comfortable and appropriate seating on the plane, there is even the option to Try Before You Fly. This is separate to the airline but may be worth considering before travelling abroad. Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF) set up Tryb4uFly as part of their Mobility Services division in order to help people with disabilities feel more comfortable and ensure they have the right equipment ahead of a flight. This service includes individual cabin assessments in replica aircrafts, allowing those with a disability to test and try out support and seating options for their upcoming flight. Additional equipment can also be hired in order to make seating more comfortable and create ease during travel. Free information surrounding everything to do with travelling by air is also provided. 

Flying with a disability may seem daunting, but there is support in place. Many airport and airline staff are trained in how to support those with a disability and should always be supportive of your needs and willing to help. For peace of mind, thorough research and planning ahead is advised before your trip. This will hopefully avoid any complications during future travel and ensure your journey runs as smoothly as possible.