Navigating the Airport with a Disability

There are a few things to consider when navigating an airport for an individual with a disability.  Below we address some of the considerations you may need.

Bringing your own Wheelchair:  If you use a wheelchair you will need to notify the airport at least a week before your departure. You can usually do this when you book your flight. However, it’s always a good idea to call as well. The airline will want to know what type of wheelchair you are bringing: manual or power. If you are bringing a power wheelchair the airline will need to know the battery type: gel or dry cell as opposed to a wet cell battery. A wet cell battery will require special handling at the airport. The airline will also need to know if you are able to transfer independently. They can either check your wheelchair at the check-in desk and the chair will be available to you at baggage claim.  In that scenario, you will need to use an airport wheelchair to get to the gate.  You can also gate-check your wheelchair. In this scenario the chair will be stored at the front of plane and will be available to you as soon as you get off of the plane. If you are not able to transfer independently the airline will be able to provide assistance. This will most likely entail the use of an “aisle chair” (a chair narrow enough to fit in the aisle of the plane).

Using an airport wheelchair:  This is a good option for anyone who has trouble with walking long distances. Notify the airline at least a week before your departure. And, you will also need to notify them upon arrival. They will assign an attendant to navigate you to the appropriate gate. 

If you have a connecting flight and require assistance between gates you may need to notify the airline staff as you depart the plane and wait at the arrival gate until your wheelchair arrives.  

Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities:  The airline should be notified that an individual with an intellectual disability will be flying independently at the time of booking and a call should be made to confirm with the airline a week before the departing flight. You can have one person chaperone you through security to wait with you until you board the plane. And, one person, on the arriving end waiting at the arrival gate for you to de-plane as well. In order to do this you and the chaperone will need to check in at the ticketing counter two hours before the flight’s scheduled departure. Both the traveler and chaperone will need to present legal picture identification. The chaperone should explain that they are accompanying a special needs traveler and that they require a gate pass to assist the traveler to or from the gate. If you are traveling alone we suggest always getting non-stop flights. The airlines do not provide assistance between gates unless you are using an airport wheelchair. And, even then, they do not wait with you to make sure you get on the plane. If you have an intellectual disability you may not be notified when you are supposed to board. This is why we highly recommend non-stop flights in these situations. The chaperones at the arriving airports can also “Check in” for a gate pass so that they are waiting at the gate when the traveler arrives and deplanes. The airline has the discretion to prevent anyone from flying or require them to fly with a chaperone. They usually only do this in cases with obvious behavioral issues. All travelers flying alone should be able to follow the flight attendants safety instructions in the case of emergency.

There is a new Sunflower Lanyard Program that is available and some airports.  If your airport offers this program, you can go to the information desk and ask for a “sunflower lanyard.”  They will have you fill out a brief form with your information.  The traveler can wear this lanyard as a discreet sign to TSA and airport staff of a “hidden disability.”  This will help identify the traveler so they get extra assistance and support through security, boarding, etc.

Medication Considerations:  Always bring important medication as a carry-on and bring additional medication in case you experience any travel delays or loss of checked luggage. If you do not self-administer your meds and you are not traveling with a chaperone who is able to help administer your meds (med certified) then it is wise to avoid any flights with connections.

Exceptional Vacations staff are available to answer any additional questions that you may have. Please call us toll-free at 866-748-TRIP.



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