Let your Airline Know You Might Need Extra Help
If you or one of your party is a traveler with disabilities, or if you have an injury, inform your airline in advance of traveling – most ask for at least 24 hours’ notice. If they don’t know you’re coming, it’s difficult for them to help! Assistance is usually offered free of charge.
‘I once broke my leg skiing while I was away from home and had to get two flights back on my own, later than the rest of my group, using crutches which I wasn’t used to and unable to pull a suitcase,’ said Catherine Cooper, a journalist from the UK.
‘I was really worried about it before the journey but the airports couldn’t have been more helpful. I was met pretty much at the door and whizzed through security in a wheelchair and to the gate on a buggy – there really had been nothing for me to worry about. I was similarly assisted for my arrival too.‘
As well as contacting my airline before I traveled, I’d also tweeted the airport to find out how things would work and they were able to tell me about the process, which was very reassuring.’
Not all disabilities are visible. If one of your group has autism, dementia or anxiety, being at the airport can be very stressful. Heathrow has produced a special card for people with these conditions to fill in with suggestions of what kind of help they need.
Travelers with hidden disabilities can also wear a Sunflower Lanyard which will discreetly let Heathrow staff know that they have a hidden disability and would request additional support (if you require a Sunflower Lanyard, simply email Heathrow at email@example.com).
If they are feeling overwhelmed, there are clearly-signalled points throughout the airport where specially-trained staff can try to help. You can also book personalized assistance in the same way as someone with a mobility issue if this is more appropriate for you or your loved one.
LAX’s Flight Experience Programme for Travelers with Autism
Many families with a family member with autism say that they avoid flying as they don’t know how their loved one will react. The LAX Flight Experience Program allows these families to check in, go through security and board a plane – all without actually flying. The service is free, but you do need to book in advance.
The airport also offers an autism recognition system, whereby travelers with autism can wear a jigsaw-shaped sticker if they choose to help airport staff recognise that they may need some extra help.
How Will I Manage at the Airport?
All A380 airports will have disabled toilet facilities, most will have convenient places for passengers with disabilities to be dropped off or park and some, including LAX, have adult changing facilities, but many go much further. For example, Heathrow offers a quiet room and host areas for people who need assistance.
For the hard of hearing, the SignLive app will connect travelers with British Sign Language interpreters in real time allowing them to communicate more easily with airport staff. There are also induction loops throughout the airport, and text payphones in the arrivals area.
What if I Want to Take My Own Wheelchair? Or Medical Oxygen?
Rules regarding wheelchairs are complicated – you may be able to have it with you in the cabin, you may have to put it in the hold (powered wheelchairs will almost always have to go in the hold) and it may have to be folded or partly dismantled depending on its size. There is some useful information here, but it is crucial to contact your airline in advance to check.
Oxygen policies also vary – some airlines can provide it, some won’t, some may charge extra. Check in advance, both with your airport and with your doctor.
What About Assistance Animals?
Most airlines will accept assistance animals - ones used for emotional support as well as for physical help - but you will usually need to inform them in advance and may need a letter from your doctor.
LAX has three outdoor animal relief stations and one indoors. There are bags for easy disposal of waste, as well as room for the animals to stretch out and enjoy a bowl of water.
Air travel is accessible to just about anyone. If you have any additional needs, let your airline know in advance, and it’s likely that both the airline and airport will do whatever they can to help.
Have a look at the airport’s website to see what facilities they offer and where they are ahead of your journey too. The more you can plan, the easier your journey is likely to be.
* Airline information on accessibility for travelers: