Most people will agree that getting on a flight is almost as easy as taking a train or a bus these days. However, it is still an adventure for many travellers with a reduced mobility or visual and hearing impairments. The whole process of checking in, going through security, etc. is much more difficult for travellers with special needs. They often face problems from the very moment they arrive at the airport to leaving the airport at their destination.
Most airports and airlines have special facilities and services for travellers that use crutches, a wheelchair or have a guide dog. However, there is always room for improvement….
Are you a traveller with special needs and flying for the first time? Have you asked yourself how you can prepare for your flight and try to avoid problems that may arise?
Here are some travel tips for any traveller that requires special attention and is going to take a flight:
1) Booking a flight
When you are booking your flight, there is usually a section where you can specify if you have any special requirements. Here you must leave a note that you will be travelling with a wheelchair, Zimmer frame (walker) or guide dog… try and give the exact size and weight of your assisting devices.
If you are booking over the phone, make the operator aware of your requirements too. Remember that airlines cannot refuse you boarding because you are travelling with a wheelchair, etc. and the EU regulations in force state that airlines cannot charge you to travel with a wheelchair, zwimmer frame or guide dog. Be warned that electric wheelchairs with a wet battery are not permitted on aircrafts for safety reasons as they are prone to leakage.
2) The airport
Before you set off you should ring the airport or check its website to find out what facilities they have. Find out if it has disabled parking spaces, elevators, disabled toilets etc…
3) Checking in
Some airports have special check-in desks for wheelchair users. You should check out the airport’s website to find out or ring in advance. It is also a good idea to arrive at the airport in time so that you can find your way around and avoid any mishaps. It will also give you plenty of time to register and label your wheelchair so that it doesn’t get lost along the way and so you get to pick the best seat on the plane.
You should check in about 2 hours before international flights and 90 minutes before domestic flights.
At check-in you can specify if you want to preboard the aircraft or go on last. Preboarding will give you more time to store your hand luggage and take your seat. Being the last to board will give you more time to visit the ladies or gents before you are confined to the cabin facilities.
5) During the flight
One of the biggest problems during a flight is using the bathroom… which is like a matchstick box. Long-haul aircrafts are usually equipped with a wheelchair, adapted to limited aisle space, so you should have no problems getting to the bathroom. However on medium/short-haul flights, aircrafts do not usually have a wheelchair so you will have to get help.
6) FREMEC CARD (Frequent travellers’ medical card)
The FREMEC card is an official form of identification for disabled travellers and the advantages of having it are that you will receive an enhanced level of service. It is completely free and anyone who has a severe but stable medical condition can apply for the card. Apply for a card and quote your personal number when booking flights. The airlines can then prepare so that all your needs are met before the flight.