Over 200 million people flew in and out of the UK last year, with more than half of Brits travelling by air at some point.
But only 36 per cent of people with a disability took a flight in 2018, indicating there are still barriers – or perceived barriers – to disabled travellers when it comes to flying.
UK charity Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF) is looking to shake-up those stats, releasing a video with the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) covering everything from booking to disembarking flights, as well as letting disabled travellers try out seating and transfer equipment in a realistic aircraft setting ahead of travel as part of its Tryb4uFly scheme.
Here, QEF’s accessible aviation expert Graham Race shares his top tips on flying with a disability with The Independent.
Find out if you are fit to fly
If you’re unsure about whether you’ll be fit to fly, the first thing to do is to speak with your GP or consultant. Airlines will want to ensure that your condition is stable and may ask questions when you book. There may also be advice available from charities or organisations that specialise in working with people with your condition.
Do some recon
A good tip for travellers with autism is to visit the airport before travelling and check the resources that airports provide. A journey by coach or train before travelling by air might be a good way to assess your needs or your travelling partner’s needs, especially when preparing for a first flight. A strategy to soothe, relax, or distract from the journey, and a plan for the flight being delayed, are also good ideas.
Book your flight
Whether you book directly with the airline or via a travel agent, it’s your responsibility to let the airline know about your assistance requirements. This is usually done after the flight has been booked but must be completed 48 hours before your flight.
Wheelchairs and mobility scooters
You can take a manual or battery powered wheelchair or scooter, but it’s important to let the airline know its make and model, weight and dimensions so that they can ensure it’s safe in transit and will fit into the aircraft hold. If it’s powered it is essential to know how to deactivate the power. It can be worth knowing how to fold it down too, so reacquaint yourself with the process – The Independent reported in September 2018 on a case where a woman and her disabled son were left feeling “humiliated” after they were asked to disembark a Ryanair flight because staff couldn’t fold down his wheelchair.
Medication and special foods
If taking over 100ml of liquid medication or food, you’ll need a doctor’s letter. It’s also advisable to take a doctor’s letter if you have any medical or surgical implants. If you need oxygen always check with your airline in advance.
You should also double check the legality of any medication in the country you’re travelling to. Don’t get caught out like British traveller Laura Plummer, a shop worker from Hull who recently finished serving just over a year in prison for a drugs conviction after flying to Hurghada, Egypt, with 290 tramadol painkillers in her luggage. She said she was taking them in for her partner, who suffers from chronic pain following a car accident.
Make sure you’re insured
It’s a good idea to speak with specialist insurers that are familiar with issues disabled people may face. Unfortunately, equipment can get damaged, and airlines will have limits on the amount that they will reimburse under their standard terms and conditions, so cover for this is particularly important.
Assistance when you arrive at the airport
You have the right to assistance from the time you arrive at the airport. You can request this from call points to help you make your way to the special assistance reception. From there your assistance needs will be checked for your onward journey, including support with luggage and boarding.
You can remain in your wheelchair, if you use one, during security checks. A swab may be taken from your clothing or wheelchair to check that you are not carrying anything unauthorised. You may be asked to have a pat down check, so inform the security staff of anything they should be aware of, for example medical devices under your clothing such as insulin pumps. You can ask for the check to be performed away from the queue of other passengers.
Getting on the plane
The distance between the departure lounge and the boarding gate can be a long way, so assistance at this stage can be invaluable. When you get to the plane, there are several ways to board, so you should ask about what arrangements are in place for you. The airport assistance team should continue to help you until you’re transferred into your seat. To board the aircraft, wheelchair users will have to come out of their wheelchair into a transfer chair that can be manoeuvred down the aisle, and from there transferred into a seat.
Using the toilet
It’s a good idea to speak to your continence advisor in advance to make plans for your personal comfort during your flight. Cabin crew may be able to assist you getting to the aircraft toilet door if there is a narrow aisle chair on board, but to use this you will need to be able to self-transfer out of your seat. Cabin crew cannot accompany you inside the toilet.
Disembarking the aircraft
If you use a wheelchair, remind the cabin crew before the aircraft begins its descent that you require your wheelchair immediately after you exit the aircraft. You will normally be the last to leave the aircraft so the aisle is clear for your transfer equipment and transfer chair to be used.
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