Air Travel Tips for People with Disabilities

Wheelchair users at the airline ticket counter
The logistics of overseas travel can be a challenge, even for the most intrepid traveler with a disability. Experience is an effective teacher to help you learn strategies for handling flights, customs procedures, and other aspects of entering a foreign country.
  • Book flights well in advance and call the airline directly to ensure that all disability-related needs will be met. Ask for the name and position of each person you speak with and record this information.
  • Make arrangements for travel to and from airports. Many U.S. companies like taxis and airport shuttles offer this service free of charge.  Make these arrangements well in advance along with your flight arrangements to avoid frustration upon arrival and departure.
  • Arrive at the airport one hour earlier than normally advised. This will allow time for accommodations to be made and avoid delays through security.
  • Consider varying the lengths of your flights depending on disability-related needs. Long flights may be uncomfortable, especially for people who cannot use inaccessible airplane toilets. Shorter connecting flights may be a better alternative.
  • Allow at least 90 minutes between connecting flights (or longer if required to pass through immigration and customs during a layover) in order to ensure enough time to transfer between gates.
  • Try to investigate the layout and access features of all of the airports along your route even if you’re only expecting a short layover and consider possible contingency plans if access is unavailable. A bedpan or urinal in your carry-on luggage just might save the day if you are a wheelchair user.
  • Ask for assistance and be specific on how to be lifted if needed in enplaning and deplaning, including assistance beyond the screener checkpoints and between connecting gates but keep track of your luggage if going through customs.
  • Request that an unticketed individual assist you through security to your boarding gate, if needed, by going to the airline’s check-in desk and receiveing a "pass" allowing them to go through the screener checkpoint without a ticket.
  • Set up special dietary requirements or need for assistance at meals (airline personnel are not permitted to assist with eating, but should assist with opening packages and identifying food items on a meal tray).
  • Request a specific seat in advance such as the bulkhead seat (first row in a section) if needed for wheelchair transfer, a physical condition, or for your service animal. Be aware that not all seats have moveable armrests.
  • Research online information about border patrol and customs screening at the airport and if you have difficulty communicating explain what would be helpful for them to do related to your disability (e.g. writing on piece of paper their questions).

Learn other tips and about your rights when flying in the Table of Contents and Related Links.

Related Resources

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