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How to make travelling with a disability as pain-free as possible!

Going on holiday is typically stressful at the best of times, from sorting liquids into tiny clear plastic bottles to waking up in the early hours only to be sat on congested motorways in standstill traffic. And, if you’re lucky enough to have got through all of that relatively pain-free, you still have to get through the airport.

So, just imagine having to worry about getting your mobility equipment safely through customs and relying on airport staff to handle your priority access smoothly, carry on your hand-luggage, and, sometimes, physically lift you onto the plane themselves. It all sounds like anything other than a holiday so far, right?

Well, if you’ve had your ear to the ground recently you will know that there have been several publicised cases where passengers travelling with disabilities have had untold issues with the whole process of getting through the airport.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham, a recent Stansted passenger, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome – a connective tissue disorder which causes chronic pain and joint dislocation – as well as Marfan syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome – a condition which affects the heart and can cause dizziness – told The Independent that an airport employee refused her assistance because ‘she didn’t look disabled’. Following this, she was forced to carry her own luggage and left feeling belittled by the entire process.

From having to prove your seemingly invisible disability, to having your mobility equipment mishandled, there seem to be numerous issues one can encounter while navigating the airport.

One of our very own customers and successful blogger, Martyn Sibley, describes in his recent post, when the going gets tough, how the poor handling of his wheelchair through customs led to a long chain of unfortunate circumstances, delays, and unnecessary stress, that all could have been avoided.

So, in the interest of trying to help smooth out the process of travelling with a disability, we have put together some top tips on things to do to ensure you’re travelling experience is as pain-free as possible.

Prepare in advance

Kind of a no-brainer, but do your research! EU law states that disabled and reduced mobility passengers have legal rights to assistance when travelling by air. Don’t hesitate to pre-warn your airline ahead of time; you are not being difficult – you are, in fact, giving them the necessary time to prepare for any special assistance they need to provide.

Note, you must provide warning at least 48 hours prior to departure.

Provide substantial information

Ensure you provide as much information as possible: details of your disability and subsequent requirements you have, through to the dimensions of the equipment you will be using. The more information the airline has, the better they can prepare. Consider clarifying this information via email as a form of insurance for yourself – if provisions aren’t put into place you have evidence that you pre-warned the airline sufficiently.

Specialist travel Insurance

Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition or disability knows how hard it can be to get quality travel insurance cover, without having to take out a new mortgage to cover the costs! We recommend insuring yourself with a specialist insurance company. One we would particularly recommend is Mark Bates Ltd, with a clear and user-friendly website, fair pricing, and providing specialist support and knowledge for pre-existing conditions and disabilities of all kinds.

Consider a specialist travel agent

Consider booking through a specialist travel agent. Some agents provide very niche services and others are more general – here’s one we’ve found.

Check-in with your flight attendant

Don’t be afraid to nudge your flight attendant before your plane lands, to ensure they are reminded to plan for your exit. Attendants usually have a lot going on during a flight and a tactful nudge at the appropriate time would likely be appreciated!

Bring spare parts and tools

Wheelchairs can take tremendous abuse while travelling; it’s a good idea to assemble a small kit of spare parts and tools for emergency repairs. If you were required to dismantle a wheelchair for certain flights or activities; you want to have the necessary tools to do so. If you are travelling in a group, ensure one person knows how to do this.

Take a look at BHTA Air Transport Advice’s website for further information on how to best disassemble your equipment for a flight.

Understand your rights

Reading up on your rights before embarking on a journey can prove to be extremely useful and can prevent a lot of unnecessary conflict from happening.

For instance, some people aren’t aware they can’t keep their wheelchair/mobility aid in the cabin of the plane. It must be taken to the hold luggage and you will be provided with the necessary help to get on and off the plane – given that you have alerted the airline in advance (as aforementioned). To find out more about your rights whilst travelling have a read up on the link here.

We hope this helps and happy holidays!

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