Travel can bring with it eye-opening experiences that you remember for the rest of your life, and you don’t have to miss out because of your disability. You’ll need to plan carefully, but don’t let that put you off, and don’t rule out flying to your destination — the preparation will all be worth it when you’re exploring new places and making memories. Here are five essential tips for the flight.
Find out what facilities will be available
Knowing what’s available at the airport and during the flight will make the check-in and boarding process much more straightforward. Facilities will vary depending on where you’re travelling from and which airline you’re flying with — always find out what they are in advance, so you can adjust your plans if necessary.
Services to look out for:
- Assistance to and from the aircraft
- Transport for wheelchairs and other mobility aids
- Help with stowing your baggage
- Help with moving between your seat and the toilet
Let the airline know about your disability in advance
Always disclose your disability. The airline will be able to prepare adequately for your flight, make any special arrangements, and help you while you’re in transit.
Most airlines require that you let them know about your disability at least 48 hours before takeoff, but it’s worth notifying them at the time of your booking to ensure everything is definitely taken care of. The airline will often reserve a seat for you at no extra cost.
The best places to sit on a plane when you have a disability:
- By entry points (but not by the emergency exits)
- At the beginning of a cabin class
- In an aisle seat
Prepare your medication and specialist equipment
You can travel with up to two items of mobility equipment free of charge if you’re disabled, and it won’t count as part of your baggage allowance. Wheelchairs will be stored in hold during the flight. You can either check in your wheelchair and use an airline-provided one to get to the plane, or you can use your own wheelchair until you reach the aircraft, when the chair will then be stowed away in hold — find out what arrangements the airline will make for you.
As for medication, always pack it in your hand luggage, and bring at least twice as much as you would normally need, just in case. Leave it in its original packaging, make sure it’s clearly labelled, and bring your prescriptions too, so customs officers can clearly see what you have and who it’s for.
(Not sure what to do when taking medical supplies through customs? Insurancewith’s guide to travelling with a medical condition takes you through the dos and don’ts.)
Keep a medical card and doctor’s letter on you at all times
A signed doctor’s letter will explain your medical condition, list any medication you’ve been prescribed, and clear you to fly. (Remember: you may have to pay a charge for the letter, since GPs are not obligated to write them.)
A medical card should contain the following information:
- Your doctor’s name and contact details
- Your health and travel insurance information
- The names of the medications you’re taking and what you’re taking them for
- A list of your disabilities and any illnesses or medical conditions
Travel with a companion
Travelling with a companion is compulsory if you’re not self-reliant, i.e. if you need help with feeding, breathing, taking your medication or using the toilet, because there are certain tasks cabin crew aren’t able to carry out. Let the airline know in advance so they can arrange for you to sit together.
You can also travel with an assistance dog if you follow the rules for pet travel — airlines must accept them without charge, although they may ask you to book another seat if the dog needs extra space. For more information about flying with an assistance dog, check out the Civil Aviation Authority’s guidelines