Travel with wheelchairs
While smaller mobility aids such as canes, crutches and collapsible walking frames can easily be stowed in the aircraft cabin, wheelchairs and motorised scooters can be a different story. As there is limited room for larger mobility equipment in the cabin (usually only one or two are accepted), airlines offer the option of checking your wheelchair in with your baggage and using an airport wheelchair, or taking your own chair all the way to boarding where it will then be stowed in the aircraft hold to be collected upon arrival. Airport wheelchairs are subject to availability, so it’s essential you get in early and make your special assistance details known.
For motorised mobility aids, you must ensure all batteries are disconnected and that the connections are taped and covered so they do not turn on during the flight or run the risk of short circuiting. It is important to give as much information about the type of equipment you have when making your booking, so you don’t run into issues with security or during the boarding process. Don’t forget to label your wheelchair or mobility equipment before you travel.
When booking your accommodation or if you’re considering a cruise, contact the company well in advance to see whether you can secure a ground-level room, discuss the availability of elevators or ramps and whether there is suitable access in and out of dining or entertainment areas.
Different airlines have individual protocols when it comes to travelling with assistance dogs: some allow the dogs to remain on board, while others require them to be placed in a secure pet container in the hold. Assistance dogs must fulfil a checklist to be accepted on board, including having met an appropriate level of training, certification from an industry recognised organisation and passing a public access test in the case of guide dogs. Handlers should have a laminated identification card with their name and their companion’s name printed on it ready to show to staff on request.
Registered service dogs can often accompany you on board on domestic flights and select international flights, but it’s important to check whether your flight route is assistance dog approved. To avoid difficulties when it comes to quarantine, make sure your canine companion has met the specifications on the quarantine appropriate website (e.g. AQIS for Australia and DEFRA for the United Kingdom) and that you have any and all relevant documentation with you including vaccinations, treatments and micro-chipping. Your dog’s safety harness may be required during take-off, landing or any time the "fasten seat belt" sign is turned on. Finally, make sure your assistance dog has access to water both before and during the journey.
Misplaced baggage is stressful enough, but the situation can be made even worse if you have essential medication stowed in your checked luggage. Avoid this worst case scenario by making sure any medication you will need is taken in your hand luggage, including extra prescriptions and letters from your doctor. Additionally, if your medication needs to be kept at a certain temperature, pack it in a cooler bag to be taken on board. Do not remove your medication from their packaging – it’s best to take it in its box with pharmaceutical labels visible.
At times, you may be required to complete a medical clearance form prior to flying, especially if you suffer from a condition that could be impacted by pressurised cabins. Those who require medication to be administered via syringe can usually take medical sharps on board with minimal complications, but you may need to present a letter from your doctor, a prescription or the medication itself with the pharmacy label displaying your name.
Be mindful that while cabin and ground staff at the airport or cruise terminal are ready to assist you wherever possible, they do not undertake specialist medical training. If you need to administer medication during your journey, talk to your GP beforehand and make sure your carer is adequately prepared.
What to do at the airport
Checking in as early as possible will alleviate any potential hiccups along the way. If there is a service desk inside the terminal, staff may be able to assist you with checking in, which should be at least 60 minutes before a domestic flight and two hours for international travel. Passengers with visual or hearing impairments will find hearing assistant “loops” and tactile (including Braille) signage at most major airport terminals.
At security, advise the screening officers of any medical implants (such as pacemakers or hearing aids) or prosthetic limbs, as a physical pat-down may be opted for as opposed to X-Ray. Above all else, ensure you or your carer has any documentation related to your disability on hand at all times.
Passengers requiring special assistance are invited to board first on most flights, so you will have plenty of time to get settled before take-off. It’s likely you will be given priority at every stage, from the check-in kiosk to security and bypassing lengthy customs and immigration lines. Additionally, airlines don’t usually charge excess baggage fees for checking in mobility equipment.
Where to sit on the plane
If you require a little extra legroom or would like to be close to the lavatory, most airlines will reserve your preferred seat at no extra charge. Seats vary from being more spacious to having movable arm rests, however exit row seating is not an option due to safety restrictions. Disability appropriate seating is usually found at the entry points of the aircraft, at the beginning of a cabin class, or an aisle seat with adjustable arm rests. Choosing your seat prior to check-in ensures extra peace of mind, and staff can make arrangements for your carer or assistance dog to be within easy reach.
If you are unable to manoeuvre yourself into your seat, trained flight attends may be able to assist you with the use of a slide board. To discuss what seating options might best suit your needs, get in touch with your Flight Centre travel consultant or the dedicated Special Assistance team of the airline you are flying with. You should also keep in mind not all planes have disabled toilets – an important consideration if you’re travelling long-haul.
Book your tours in advance
It’s important to do your research before heading off on holiday when it comes to things to do, such as the easy “hop-on hop-off” busses. These days, there are more and more dedicated tour groups specialising in disability friendly holidays and key tourism sites accessible for every traveller. Get in touch with Flight Centre’s tour group specialists to discuss what options might best suit your taste for travel: whether you’re looking to set sail on a cruise or strap yourself in for bungee jumping, there are guided tours out there with experts on hand to get you to destinations you never thought possible.
Furthermore, it’s common to receive discounts for both you and your carer at major attractions. To avoid the discomfort of waiting in line, take your mobility parking sticker (recognised almost everywhere) and jump the queue.
Essential travel insurance
Disability travel insurance can be a tricky thing to figure out, but luckily there are consultants on standby specialising in just that. Some insurance providers have plans in place for holidaymakers with pre-existing conditions, so there’s one less thing you will have to worry. Some travel insurance can even cover your mobility equipment if something happens to it, compensate replacement medication and take care of medical expenses incurred on your break. It can be much easier to get travel insurance than you might think and it’s worth the up-front costs if something should happen while you’re away. Regardless of age, ability or any other factor, contact Flight Centre’s travel insurance specialists today and for peace of mind knowing you’re protected away from home.