Assisted travel heroes: the companies that have mastered the art of accessibility

For those with mobility issues, travelling can be a frustrating experience – but there are firms that go the extra mile, says Julia Buckley

Julia Buckley
Friday 09 September 2016 10:35 BST
Many regional airports are improving their special assistance
Many regional airports are improving their special assistance (Shutterstock)

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic is light years ahead of other airlines, going way beyond its legal requirements with a dedicated special assistance team which can talk through your needs before booking and offers “rig visits” – tours of the airline’s training cabins at Gatwick – enabling you to try different seats and cabins for size and practise things like bathroom runs. Onboard, you’re allowed to use your own body support rather than the airline’s, and if the flight crew seem more helpful than others, it’s probably because the airline incorporates disabled travellers’ views and experiences into training videos.

Passengers can tour the airline's training cabin
Passengers can tour the airline's training cabin


A cross between a hotel booking site and Airbnb for travellers with special needs, Accomable matches disabled travellers with adapted accommodation around the world, whether that’s in hotels, self-catering cottages, or even glamping. Big brands are coming onboard – IHG Europe, Carlson Rezidor Asia and HomeAway are among those that have partnered with the site – and it’s growing quickly too. Having launched last summer with just 30 properties, Accomable now has 700 listings in 62 countries, with 2500 more on the way.


Flying from your local airport isn’t just handy; it can also be more accessible. Eleven regional airports around the UK, including Edinburgh, Birmingham, Exeter and Cardiff, use Aviramps: Telford-made aeroplane ramps, whose gentle gradients and wide turns make wheelchair access possible (rival ramps are usually too steep and narrow to do this safely). It means the ability to board and disembark along with other passengers, with far less manhandling and far more dignity than the more popular Ambulift (employed at Heathrow, for example). Newquay Cornwall airport has been the trailblazer in this respect – the special assistance is second to none, and representatives from around the globe come here to check out the devices. Flybe, meanwhile, is the first UK airline to lobby for them to be used at all the airports it serves.;

Flybe is lobbying for the use of Aviramps at airports
Flybe is lobbying for the use of Aviramps at airports

Limitless Travel

Many people with mobility issues would rather skip a holiday than risk one going wrong. That’s where Limitless Travel comes in – its concierge for travellers with disabilities will tailor-make a (hopefully) foolproof trip, from hotels to transfers to access-friendly guides and drivers. They will also brief everyone involved of your specific needs upfront and provide you with a contact in case of mishaps on the road. They’re currently rolling out access-focused reviews of attractions and hotels across the UK; the site will be revamped next month with 500 listings.


True, Venice is hardly the most accessible of cities, but it’s not impossible with careful planning, and this summer La Serenissima took a leap forward with the launch of Gondolas4all, a crowd-funded initiative to make gondola rides wheelchair-accessible. Trips are booked in advance and start at Piazzale Roma, where there’s an accessible platform and lift into the gondola; from there, it’s down the Grand Canal and in among the smaller labyrinthine waterways – allowing you to see parts of the city that are otherwise inaccessible for wheelchair users. As practical as it is symbolic.

Venice is not very accessible for wheelchair users
Venice is not very accessible for wheelchair users (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

Adapted Vehicle Hire

Planning a road trip can be tricky if you have special requirements for the car; step forward Adapted Vehicle Hire which has a fleet of 150 wheelchair access vehicles and adapted cars (anything from left leg accelerators to hand controls and infrared auxiliary controls), deliverable to anywhere in the UK. They’re insured to take abroad, too, so that European road trip is suddenly more doable.

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