Get Ready for Takeoff – The Pre-Flight Checklist for Travelers With Disabilities

July 11, 2019


When a trip is on the horizon, the aggravations of air travel often eclipse the anticipation of a well-deserved getaway. Long lines, flight delays and tight airplane quarters can make getting to your final destination an exercise in frustration—especially if you have a disability.

Thankfully, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Air Transportation Regulations eliminate many of the travel hassles that stand in your way of fun. Airports and airline companies are required to provide certain accommodations to travelers with disabilities at no extra cost. Many, in fact, go above and beyond their requirements to provide the best service to those with special needs. But to take full advantage, you need to know your rights and their offerings, and you must plan ahead.

Before your trip takes flight, here are eight important steps you need to put into action:

  1. Get documentation from your doctor. Ask your doctor for a written statement on official letterhead that explains your medical condition, prescriptions you will need to bring on board, and any special accommodations required. It provides the back-up you need in case you face an argument with the airline.
  2. Determine the best flight for your family. For example, if you’re traveling with a child with special needs, you may want a non-direct flight to give your little one room to move if they have problems sitting for a long period of time. Or, choose an airline that offers reserved seating as opposed to open seating to reduce the waiting time someone with a disability must endure while others board the plane.
  3. Choose the best time of day to fly. While you want to get to your destination as soon as possible, plan your flight around what’s most comfortable for you. TSA screenings are often backed up in the morning, but the risk of delayed flights is significantly less. Afternoons flow better, but can throw off the schedule of those who thrive on routine.
  4. Book early and be clear about your needs. The earlier you book your seat, the better. Contact the airline to request any seating adaptations, such as extended legroom or an adjoining seat for a caretaker. This is also the time to request any special services, for example, wheelchair assistance, a reader if you’re visually impaired or accommodations for a service animal. It’s also helpful to follow up with the airline 48 hours before takeoff to ensure all arrangements are in place. Most airports and airlines also offer assistance for guests without a doctors’ note, but who may have limited mobility because of age or injury. When booking, express concerns about your needs and ask about shuttle services within the airport and parking area, an airport wheelchair and accommodations aboard the flight.
  5. 5Prep for TSA screening. The TSA website details what medical devices you can and cannot bring on to the plane, which can assist you when packing. However, if you have questions about screening policies and procedures at a specific airport or have physical needs that require special accommodations or assistance at the TSA checkpoint, call the TSA Cares helpline at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before traveling. Passengers age 75 and older are not required to remove shoes and jackets during screening and may ask to sit if they must undergo a pat-down.
  6. Double check your packing. Be sure to pack medications and medical supplies in your carry-on, and if possible, back-up prescriptions in your checked bag. In the case of lost luggage, get the fax number of the pharmacy closest to your hotel before you leave in the event your doctor needs to send an emergency prescription in.
  7. Check in for your flight at home. Limit the lines by printing your boarding pass before you leave home or checking in through your smartphone. With long TSA lines looming ahead, early check-in gives you one less thing to wait for.
  8. Arrive early if needed. Those individuals who use a battery-powered wheelchair must arrive at the airport at least one hour prior to check-in time. (In most instances, an airline will only allow one electric wheelchair onboard, so be sure to verify availability well in advance). If possible, check your wheelchair and use the airline’s manual wheelchair service to get through TSA and to your gate.

If you do have mobility devices, lift solutions or safety solutions, you or your loved one will be bringing your trip, always check with your supplier as well as the airline for suggestions on packing and storing those items you need most. By being prepared well in advance, you can avoid the usual travel headaches and instead focus on all the fun you’ll have on your next adventure.