Flying with a physical disability may be a daunting part of traveling and even more so when nothing is in your primary language, but never fear. The universality of disabilities has allowed people in chairs to fly around the world for decades now with relative ease. I began flying independent of my husband less than a year from my accident and now have flown internationally without accompaniment. Accessible traveling is in the air!
- First and foremost, let the airline know that you want/need assistance when you book your ticket. They need to know you’re coming so that they can have all the moving pieces of boarding you onto the plane in place for your flight. This site has some GREAT information about your rights as a disabled passenger and what to understand about luggage, seating, etc. When you call the airline, they will ask for specs of your wheelchair; know the weight and dimensions in the metric system conversion. Ask for an aisle seat to make for an easier transfer and if possible, a seat closer to the front. The people of friendshipcircle.org have a great pre-flight checklist that has more universal tips for all types of special needs.
- Some of the assistance available to a person with a disability is help carrying your bags, an escort through security and to the gate, and assurance always be in a comfortable environment. Physically disabled passengers go through a separate security check, so you won’t have to wait in the line! Make sure you have bagged and pulled out any medical supplies as well, so that there won’t be any confusion going through security.
- Once you get to the gate, your airline will have already been informed that you’ll be flying by the people who helped you through security. They will be boarding you first, before everyone else, and you’ll be the last to leave. If you use a chair, you’ll have to transfer to the very skinny, not so comfortable airline chair when you board the plane and your wheelchair will be stowed underneath (so make sure there’s nothing attached to it you’ll need!). Take your seat cushion or it will come back filthy. After the flight, you’ll be escorted again to your next departure location.
- **NOTE: This whole process takes extra time. You must be at your gate no later than 45 minutes before they board other passengers and expect to arrive at checked bags at least a half hour after everyone else has left the plane when you land.
Don’t fear the budget airlines! Germanwings and Ryanair have been absolutely accommodating and as comfortable of an experience as expected with a budget airline. For Germanwings, they have barrier-frei accommodations that can be booked online. Every airline, no matter the price of their tickets, has a call line and a way to make their flight accommodating for a person in a chair. And that’s what’s important.