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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   4 min read

The news is flooded with stories about passengers in wheelchairs or oxygen respirators charged exorbitant luggage fees or rightly refused boarding. Airlines are being sued left, right and centre for discrimination. So the question is: Can you travel with a disability?

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And the answer? Yes, you can. But there are some things you should know in advance and be prepared to deal with, especially if you’re thinking of booking a cheap flight with the likes of Ryanair. First of all disabled travel, as it’s called these days when someone travels with a physical disability, is on the rise. With so many flight and holiday deals available, there’s no wonder more passengers with disabilities than ever want to get away on flights to Spain or for a holiday in Turkey.

Passenger rights

All disabled passengers have the same rights as non-disabled ones in the EU and largely all over the world and should, in theory, receive equal treatment. Do you know your passenger rights? Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen the way we think it should. Many travellers are faced with higher travel costs, extra fees, inadequate facilities both on-board and at the airport as well as inconsideration and misinformation.

Adding to both the traveller’s and the airline’s frustrations are that no two disabled passengers are the same. Each passenger has their own equipment, slightly varying from the last and needs different services and has different needs. Unfortunately, “cookie-cutter” airline seats and services just don’t cut it.

Wheelchairs available

Tips for disabled travelling

There are some things you can do however to make the trip easier whether it’s you yourself that is a disabled traveller or someone you will be travelling with. Here are several tips to check-off before you trip, during and after.

Call ahead

As soon as you’ve decided on your destination and possible flights, get in touch with your airline. Thankfully in the EU service providers must by law accommodate any travellers who may require special needs. As soon as you book your flights, call customer service to give them the heads up of what you’ll need for your journey whether it be extra help boarding, more time during a stopover to get from Gate A to Gate B, etc. The same goes for hotels. Call both your airline and your hotel between 24 and 48 hours before you depart to make sure everything is in place and ready for your trip.

Be specific

When describing the disability, always be as specific as possible, giving dimensions of the wheelchair (if applicable) that will be brought onboard or any specific care or preparations that need to be taken. As you can imagine, not everyone knows the right medical terms or words for conditions and care, so explain what they mean. This doesn’t mean you should simplify, it’s important that that airline or hotel know how severe the condition is.

Tell the doctor about the trip

Eiffel Tower

Doc’s know best! So give your personal doctor the heads up that you’ll be flying and he might be able to provide special tips for enduring a long flight or coping with travelling. Also, if you require special medication, make sure you put an order in well in advance for your prescriptions so that you have enough for your entire trip plus extra in case of emergency.

Get a doctor’s statement

If you will be carrying medication onboard, especially if it’s liquid medication, then you’ll need a written statement from your doctor explaining your condition, which mediation you need for the duration of your journey, potential complications and any other relevant information. It would be ideal to have the letter typed on an official letterhead and of course dated and signed at the bottom.

Pre-flight and during

It’s important to get to the airport early in order to check-in and have plenty of time to get through security and reach your gate. Allow around 2 hours for domestic flights, 3 hours for international ones. Once you’re in the air and approaching your final destination just make sure you check-in with the flight stewards as to how you will disembark from the plane.

Avoid stopovers

When planning your trip it’s wise to avoid stopovers when possible. Depending on your condition, it may be easier to just stay put on a long-haul flight rather than having multiple stopovers. On the other hand, if using a small and cramped aircraft lavatory is a struggle, then it may be more comfortable to plan your trip with a stopover. Give yourself at least 90 minutes between flights.

Bring all the nuts and bolts

If you’re travelling with a wheelchair, bring some spare parts with you. Wheelchairs take a real beating when being transported as checked-in luggage, not to mention the cobble stone streets in some European cities and whatnot. It’s useful to have a small kit with a few spare parts and tools in case you need to make some emergency repairs while on the go. Also, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to dismantle some parts of your chair for travelling.

Do you have experience travelling as a disabled passenger or with someone with a disability? How was your experience, any tips for others?

Imgs: Daquella manera, Mark D L / Flickr cc.

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