Flying with Disabilities
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Flying can be nerve-wracking for many people, an endeavour fraught with all sorts of anxieties and stressful factors. Adding in travelling with a disability, especially if you want to travel solo, can make it seem like it is out of reach.
The truth, however, is far less frightening. Travelling by air as a disabled person is actually far easier than you might think. The experiences I'm going to talk about are from the point of view of a blind woman, but most of them could apply to just about any disability you may be dealing with yourself.
Your first step comes into play when booking your flight, and it's the most important one. No matter how you are booking your flight, be it online, with a travel agent or over the phone, you should have the ability to note somewhere that you have a disability and will need assistance. This is important, as it gives your airline plenty of notice that you need help, but if your flight is in a few hours and you haven't done this, don't freak out, most airlines should be able to still help you if you let them know about your needs at check in. It's just easier on everyone to give advanced warning.
So. Checking in. While you certainly still can do your advance online check-in, it is a bit superfluous. I often do it anyway, myself, but either way you still need to go to the check-in desk upon arrival. Let the person at the desk know, again, that you need assistance. They will likely offer a wheelchair, and honestly I advise you to accept even if you don't think you require one, as it is both easier and faster. For me, it saves having to rely on the guiding abilities of a stranger.
Regardless, you may have to wait a bit for your assistant, so getting there early is advisable. I've had extremely good experiences with those helping me, they've almost always been friendly and super-helpful. They'll guide you through security and even customs if that is required, and get you up to your gate. Now, if you're early enough, there may not be a gate attendant on hand, and you may be left to fend for yourself here. It can be nerve wracking the first time this happens, but they should put you in a visible spot where the gate attendant that eventually shows up will notice you. Often, I'll have the attendant approach me once they arrive to let me know that they're there, see if I need anything, and let me know that they'll help me board.
Which is exactly what happens. When preboarding is announced, someone comes to get me and helps me down the ramp to hand me off to the flight attendants. These kind people then help me find my seat and most make sure that I am aware of safety protocols and show me where the call buttons are. If you need a seatbelt extender, this is a good time to let them know.
After that, it's smooth sailing, or flying, until the plane lands.
But what if you have a connecting flight? That's easy enough. Your flight attendants will hold you on the plane until someone arrives with a wheelchair to get you to the connecting gate. Do not be afraid to let your assistant know if you require washroom facilities or the like, they are happy to help you. They'll get you through to your connecting gate, and if it is early enough that there is no gate, they'll just take you to an area to wait for that. Rinse and repeat at the gate.
If you've gotten to where you are going, your helper will take you to where you need to be. If you're meeting someone, they will remain with you until you are with that person. If you're catching a cab, they'll take you there. If you're going to Disney and hopping aboard the Magical Express, they'll take you to check in and Cast Members will help you from there. All of this after ensuring that any checked baggage has been duly collected, though I tend to travel with only carry on where possible.
I do suggest offering a tip to the person who has been helping you. They are providing a service, and much like people working at bell services, do deserve a gratuity for all their hard work.
That's pretty much it. I've travelled alone with connections, into other countries and even crossed oceans on my own. Heck, it probably gets me through customs and security a bit faster, though you should never count on that.
All of this help, incidentally, is still available even if you are travelling with someone else.
So if travel is something you want to do but you're uncertain of how you can manage to do it with a disability, don't be worried. Help is out there, and it really does work.