The Paralympics was a great success in London this summer as hundreds of athletes from around the world travelled to England's capital in search for Gold. This got me wondering how easy it is for disabled travellers to get on a plane and see the world, and which airlines, travel agents and airports are best equipped to offer the best service. Seeing the world is a luxury most people are afforded these days because of the convenience of air travel and falling prices. (easJet is now in the running to offer low-cost flights from London all the way to Moscow) But is this luxury as accessible to people with disabilities and is the tourism industry doing enough to make it so?
With this question in mind ,I went on a mission to find out how exactly the industry is dealing with this issue and what the best options are for disabled passengers.
First of all, which airlines are the most user-friendly? Warning: All of the services on offer are subject to 48 hours notice
Qantas: The Australian flag-carrier offers reduced prices for passengers that require a carer and are perfectly happy welcoming service animals on board without extra cost. The airline's support, according to disabledtraveladvice.co.uk, is constant from start to finish, with the aircraft's staff trained to help passengers in and out of their seats if needs be.
Continental Airlines: For flights within America Continental is generally accepted as the best option for disabled passengers. The airline's most impressive feature is an onboard kennel to house service animals during flights, while it also provides specially tailored seating arrangements and help for customers that have issues with mobility.
easyJet: In terms of economy carriers easyJet appears to be the best, offering a carry chair service to lift passengers over stairs or other potential obstacles. Unfortunately, service animals are only permitted on flights within the UK and aisle wheelchairs are not available.
Air Canada: Air Canada is a favourite of disabledtraveladvice.co.uk because extra seating is free for passengers that need it and staff have been reported to regularly check on any travellers that need special assistance.
British Airways: With all of the Paralympian athletes coming in and out of the UK this summer it is no wonder that BA has a fairly extensive disability service. The British flag-carrier allows passengers with disabilities, ranging from deafness to visually impaired, to reserve their seats without any extra charge. Service animals can board free of charge on all domestic routes and are also permitted entrance on some major international routes. Wheelchair users can have their collapsible wheelchair stored inside the cabin or specially stowed away in the plane's baggage hold.
However, Nancy and Nate at disabledtravelersguide.com urge passengers that require a wheelchair to insist it travels within the cabin.
Disabled Travelers Guide: Nancy and Nate have a wonderful story about their worldly travels and how they have come to deal with the tests that travelling with a wheelchair creates. More than 20 years ago Nancy had several strokes at the age of 46 and, after months of trying to re-teach his wife basic educational concepts, Nate almost gave up. Luckily for this inspiring couple Nancy's brain suddenly burst back into life on one life changing day. Since then the two of them have travelled from their home in West Virginia, United States to locations as far and wide as the Brazilian Amazon, Kenya and Japan.
The Disabled Travellers Guide is an excellent resource for disabled people that are tentative about travelling, showing that, with the right attitude, and plenty of smiles, having a disability doesn't have to get in the way of enjoying the beauty our planet is blessed with.
CanBeDone: This Harrow-based operator is one of the UK's best in terms of providing a full service that promises to arrange everything no matter how complicated the itinerary. The company, established in 1985, now gives customers the chance to book holidays in more than 30 countries, including Spain, the United States and Canada. Their website at canbedone.co.uk is well worth a look; where holidaymakers can book their trips alongside a number of stipulations such as wheelchair access, pool hoists and equipment hire.
Enable Holidays: With the tagline 'because limited mobility should not restrict you,' Enable has gone about auditing more than 200 hotels and villas in order to grade them based on their accessibility for disabled travellers. The company grades properties and classifies them into three sections that permit who they can best cater for. Enable's service is fully inclusive and even ensures that customers are transported to their accredited residences in an adapted vehicle. Booking is easy and can be done at Enableholidays.com.
Vitalise.org.uk: Vitalise offers holiday breaks at their UK Respite Care Centres and promises to customize visits to ensure every one of a customer's needs are well managed. The trips are all within England at centres in Essex, Southport and Southampton, covering the Middle, North and South of England respectively.
Passengers that wish to fly out of the UK will be happy to learn that the major British Airports are all pretty well-equipped with special facilities.
Heathrow Airport, for example, has ramps, wider access pathways, telephones at a height accesible to wheelchair users and reserved seating for disabled people in check-in area.
Manchester Airport is even better with a trained staff that are proficient in sign language, enhanced public address system for the heard of hearing and Airport Services, appointed by airlines, that provide services for disabled passengers. Extra services are often found at larger airports and through larger airlines however, thanks to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, there are a number of measures every airline and airport must enforce. If at any time you feel like you are being mistreated visiting the government's rules and regulations page is well worth it. Having a look at direct.gov will help you to make sure all of your rights are being adhered to.
Finally, Tips and Tricks Courtesy of Mobility International USA
PLAN AHEAD "Whenever possible, plan and book flights well in advance and inform travel agents and airline representatives of your specific needs."
BE ASSERTIVE "Knowledge is power and familiarity with airline policies can expedite the boarding process and save a lot of potential hassle. When possible, carry copies of the specific airline policy to support requests in interactions with airline staff. Contact the Customer or 'Special Services' department of each airline to request copies of policies on the rights of passengers with disabilities."
RESEARCH AIRLINES "It should be noted that airlines in other countries have significantly different policies regarding service for people with disabilities. Some European airlines have excellent reputations for being very cooperative and helpful to people with disabilities. Others may have virtually no experience with people with disabilities."
BE PREPARED FOR SECURITY AND KNOW YOUR RIGHTS According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), "Some people with disabilities are ineligible for screening using AIT including the following: people who use wheelchairs and scooters who cannot stand; anyone who cannot stand with their arms raised at shoulder level for the 5-7 second duration of the scan; anyone who is not able to stand without the use of a cane, crutch, walker, etc; people who use service animals; peopleusing or carrying oxygen; and individuals accompanying and providing assistance to those individuals described above.
These people will be screened using alternate screening techniques including pat-downs." Liquid and Medication Regulations A doctor's note for medication, (pack a copy just in case) is always needed! "Liquid Prescription Medication with a name that matches the passenger’s ticket. Passengers needing over the counter items such as lubricants for catheterizing, liquid nutritional supplements and similar items while in flight should obtain a doctor's note. Also, be prepared to have all such items thoroughly inspected and to answers question regarding their use. "
Up to 5 oz. (148ml) of Liquid or gel low blood sugar treatment Up to 4 oz. of essential non-prescription liquid medications including saline solution, eye care products and KY jelly.
Enjoy: Obviously, holidays are the most fun when stress is replaced with the calm padding of the ocean or breathtaking architecture of an unexplored city. Disabled holidaymakers have it a bit tougher when booking a holiday but with the right knowledge and planning there's no reason they can' t get it sorted. The tourism industry is one of the most adaptable and stable markets in the world economy and hopefully it can continue to improve its service towards disabled consumers.