Having a disability shouldn’t hold you back from taking to the skies, but it does mean a bit of extra planning may be required before you fly. Most airlines have improved their assistance services so it’s now much easier than it used to be to communicate your needs.
Do your research
The first step in planning any travel is to do your research. Different airlines have different policies.
For example, some airlines charge extra if you need a lift to get up the stairs for planes that don’t have an aerobridge, while others offer this service free of charge.
You can find information about the assistance offered by airlines online:
Alternatively, you can call the airline and talk to someone about your needs before you make a booking.
Communicate early and often
Once upon a time, airlines understood ‘I need assistance’ as ‘I need a wheelchair’. But these days you can communicate your needs with a greater level of nuance. And it’s in your best interests to do so. Providing the airline with as much information as possible, as early as possible, can help to make your travel experience far more enjoyable.
Start by calling the airline when you are booking your ticket to ensure they can accommodate your needs.
With enough notice, some airlines will meet you at your car with a wheelchair or provide kerbside assistance for vision or hearing-impaired customers. You can also request assistance if you are more mobile, but may still find the trip between check in and the gate strenuous.
Call again the day before you travel to confirm your plans and go over what will happen when you arrive at the airport.
Whatever your specific needs are, if you communicate them early and often you’re more likely to get the individual support you require, rather than being treated as ‘generic disability’.
When you arrive at the airport
After doing your research and communicating your needs with the airline, you should have a clear idea of what your plans are for checking in and getting to your gate.
Plan to arrive at the airport with plenty of extra time, as it may take you longer to check in or get to your gate.
If you use crutches or walking sticks let staff at security checkpoints know that you require them to walk. If you communicate your needs, they can pass your walking stick(s) through the scanner, and bring them back to you. Alternatively, they may provide a wheelchair to get you through security.
If you’re checking in a wheelchair or scooter, ensure you bring the manual and any tools required to disassemble it. Most airlines will require that tall backrests are removed. Or they may have other requirements, especially around batteries. Ensure you arrive with plenty of time to undertake these tasks, and that you bring someone to assist you as airlines may not be able to assist.
On the plane
Remember that being on the plane itself may take some planning. Airline staff are not expected to assist with eating, administering medication, using the toilet or lifting or carrying a passenger. If you are likely to require this type of assistance, you’ll need to bring someone with you who can perform these tasks. Some airlines offer discounted airfares for carers.
If you have a stopover, it’s worth checking whether you will have access to your mobility aids. If they have been stored under the plane, the answer is likely no. So come up with a plan for the stopover ahead of time in consultation with the airline.
It’s also important to plan what will happen at your destination. Talk to the airline about where you can pick up your mobility aids, or what assistance may be available for moving through the airport or picking up your luggage.
Tips for flying with a disability
- Different airlines have different policies. Do your research on the airline’s website or give them a call.
- Speak to airline staff well in advance to be sure they can meet your needs.
- If you use a mobility aid, Qantas provides a handy checklist to ensure you have all the required information before you make your booking.
- Call to confirm plans the day before your flight.
- Allow plenty of time for checking in and boarding.
- Where possible, book direct flights to avoid stopovers. If stopovers are necessary, book flights that allow plenty of time to disembark and board.
- Always book travel insurance. You can compare various companies and policies here.
- If you are travelling internationally with medication or a guide dog, check any regulations so that you can ensure you meet any requirements.