A Disabled Person’s Guide to Airplane Travel

A Disabled Person’s Guide to Airplane Travel

Airport travel is quite the hassle no matter who you are, but as a person with a disability, you do require some additional considerations. Hopefully, this guide will help make your travel experience a breeze…or at the very least, serve as a reminder that you’re not alone in this tedious process.

Getting to the airport

Arriving to the airport early is a must, however, since you have to undergo added security measures, leave extra early – like, an extra hour early. If you are being driven to the airport, be it by a friend, a bus or cab, make sure your driver knows that you’ll need them to take your bags for you. Attempting to haul your bags while walking with crutches will make you collapse like a series of dominoes - It’ll be one of those slow motion falls typically reserved for the dramatic climax of a sports movie; at best, your bag will cushion your fall, at worst you’ll arrive to the airport looking like Conor McGregor after Floyd Mayweather was finished with him. And trying to haul your own luggage while in a chair is a physical impossibility; you simply don’t have enough arms to push yourself forward, steer, AND drag your bags all at the same time.

You might be tempted to bitterly assert your independence here, but trust me when I say: this isn’t the time. Ask for help with your bags! Recognizing your limitations is okay. You’re in a rush and you can’t afford to take a tumble (and possibly get injured) nor can you will yourself into growing more limbs. 

In the Airport

           You survived traffic and made it to the airport! Upon entry, find the handicapped waiting area and sit there. That’s right, take a seat, wait and treat yourself! This is another moment where I urge you to put aside your pride. Once seated, you’ll be assigned a number and eventually, someone to help you make your way through the airport. If you usually push yourself in a wheelchair, I have some bad news: airports rarely let you push yourself or even let your family and friends do it. I know a professional wheelchair pusher cramps your style, but it’s only for a short time. So, sit patiently in the waiting area and be thankful that you can take this time to rest your arms and legs.

           If you’re in need of a confidence boost, try to get your bottom into a US airport wheelchair. Due to our country’s obesity problem, the wheelchairs at the airports here are significantly wider than in other places. My cousin with the same disability reports that European airport wheelchairs are less generous to one’s self-confidence. 

Surviving the TSA

When you arrive to the security area in a wheelchair, or even in crutches, you will feel the tension in the air. You see, airport security agents know that a disabled person means more work for them; and while they are accommodating, it’s apparent that they are not pleased with having to exert extra effort.  They will often ask if you can take off your shoes - yes, I can put on and take off my own shoes, but I think every disabled person can relate to having had a “bad day” where everything takes so much longer than usual. Taking off and then putting on your shoes could take less than two minutes...or it could take more than 15.

In the interest of keeping your fellow travelers at peace, opt for the pat down. It’s awkward, but maybe you’ll get some laughs out of the experience. For me, it’s best to just allow them to publicly pat me down in the interest of saving time, but I’m sure the private screening room would make me feel less like I’m on stage naked. Do what makes you comfortable. Once the pat down starts, in order to avoid being sued, the agent will narrate what’s going on as it happens. It’s like something out of a phone sex nightmare – “I’m now using the back of my hand around your breasts; I’m now putting my hand in the waistband of your pants; if your able, please lift your bottom…I am now using the back of my hand on your bottom”. It’s basically the least fun way to get to second base.

Boarding

           And now, the torture is over. Boarding is the best part because you get priority. You board first. It makes you feel like a VIP. For a moment you might imagine an alternate reality where flight attendants are picky bouncers at a club and you’re the next boy band sensation. You feel THAT level of special.

Seating

           Although it may be out of your control, sitting closer to the front is best. If you are like me and use crutches and attempt to walk far back using crutches in the narrow plane, you will have to move very deliberately which will make you feel even more on display than usual.  Plus, you’ll inevitably trip over something or someone. Also, choose to sit in a window seat if you can. That way you can enjoy the view and not worry about having people trip over you as they get up to use the bathroom.

Landing

Once you land, be prepared to wait. It will take you longer than others to deplane, plus you have to wait for your wheelchair pusher to arrive before you can get anywhere. When a notable break in the crowd is created and most passengers are off the flight, that’s your opportunity to get out. 

If you're planning a trip in the near future, check out Simply Emma for reviews and advice on accessible travel.

Do you have any more advice for those traveling with disabilities, or with someone that has disabilities? We’d love to hear your suggestions!

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