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Air Travel with a Disability

Traveling by airplane is one of the safest and fastest ways to get to your destination. But crowded airports, long waits at check-in counters, security checkpoints and baggage restrictions can make flying challenging when you have a disability. Airlines must accommodate the needs of air travelers with disabilities.

To help you, here’s an in-depth information to help you better plan and travel by air, which includes many tips and tricks to make flying a more enjoyable for passengers with disabilities.

Know Your Right Before You Travel

Before traveling, check out the air-travel laws and regulations and Airlines disability policy and how they relate to your travel experience which will help you prepare, plan, pack, and feel confident before your travel.

Knowing what you’re entitled to and not being afraid to ask for what you’re entitled to will make the entire flight process less stressful.

With the help of legislation and strong advocacy, Airlines are also required to provide passengers with disabilities many types of assistance, including wheelchair or other guided assistance to board, deplane, or connect to another flight; seating accommodation assistance that meets passengers’ disability-related needs; and assistance with the loading and stowing of assistive devices. It is important to note that while most international airports have facilities available to accommodations passengers with disabilities, you will probably have to ask for them.

American With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits “discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.”

Air-Travel Rights

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers with disabilities. The US Department of Transportation is responsible for enforcing the ACAA, which applies to all flights to, from, or within the United States. The US Department of Transportation is responsible for enforcing the ACAA. The DOT’s guide provides training materials, videos and other digital content for best practices for airlines and travelers. Some of the topics include air travel with assistive devices as well as wheelchairs, service animals, and seating accommodations. If you feel discriminated against on the basis of your disability, you can file a complaint directly with DOT, go to www.transportation.gov

Your rights in the EU

If you’re a passenger with a disability you are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when travelling by air. This means airports and airlines must provide help and assistance, which is free of charge, and helps ensure you have a less stressful journey. Your right to special assistance is stipulated in EU law and applies when:

  • You fly on any airline from an EU airport
  • You fly on an EU registered airline to an EU airport

Passengers who want special assistance should aim to give their airline 48 hours notice of the help they require.

For more detail information about the special assistance services provided by all airlines and UK airports, go to www.caa.co.uk 

To file a complain, visit the CAA’s website.

EU Regulation 1107/2006

This regulation applies to all European air carriers whose flights depart from and arrive at a European airport. The law also applies to European Air Carriers departing to or arriving from airports located outside the European Union. Theoretically, 1107/2006 should also apply to non Europen carriers whose flight depart from an airport located in the EU.

US Airline Disability Accommodations

Not every airline offers the same accommodation. Below, you’ll find some major airlines regarding what the airline is able to provide to passengers with disabilities.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines assists those traveling with a disability. Any special services can be requested online or over Alaska’s accessible services phone line at 1-800-503-0101.

Additionally, let the airline know of any special requirements at check-in, in the boarding area, and on the aircraft to ensure staff is able to assist you. Lastly, arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before departure to allow ample time to board comfortably.

For a complete listing of Alaska Airlines’ disability policies, go to their website.

American Airlines

While booking your trip with American airlines, you can request for wheelchair service, individual assistance if you have a hearing, vision, cognitive, or developmental disability and also indicate that you are travelling with medical equipment or a service animal. Please note you need to notify this information within 48 hours of your flight.

For more information on American Airlines’ disability policies, go to their website.

Delta Air Lines

Depending on the type and age of the aircraft, Delta’s fleet incudes movable aisle armrests, wheelchair stowage locations, onboard wheelchairs and on larger airplanes, wheelchair accessible lavatories. You can also add your accessibility request while making your reservation online. Additionally, you can also contact them via a TTY-accessible phone line at 404-209-3434.

Read more about Delta’s disability policies, go to their website.

Hawaiian Airlines

You can inform the reservations department of Hawaiian about any assistance that you may need either on their website or by calling them at 1-800-367-5320. Please inform the airline at least 24 hours in advance if you are traveling with an attendant or if you need a boarding chair to get to and from your seat. You can also notify the airline if you are traveling with a service animal.

Read more about Hawaiian’s disability policies, go to their website.

Southwest Airlines

Please inform the airline in advance if you need assistance either online or by calling 1-800-I-FLY-SWA. Priority preboarding is available for those who have specific seating needs to accommodate their disability, who need assistance in boarding the aircraft, or who need assistance stowing any devices. This assistance can be requested from the customer service agent at the departure gate.

More information on Southwest’s disability policies, go to their website.

United Airlines

United Airlines has a disability desk which you can at 800-228-2744 at least 48 hours in advance of your travel. Any accommodations needed should be mentioned when booking for best assistance.

Read about United’s disability policies, go to their website.

Europe

Lufthansa Airlines

During the time or after your booking, you can let the airlines know about the kind of assistance and support you will need during your travel. You can reach them at +49 (0) 800-8384257 or by calling the Service Center. There are also dedicated check-in desks for passengers with disabilities at both Frankfurt and Munich airports.

Read more about their disability policies, go to their website.

Austrian Airlines

You can notify the airlines about any assistance or support while booking by using the “Services for passengers with reduced mobility or sensory impairment” form. If you are traveling with a motorized wheelchair, please inform the airline 48 hours prior to your departure. You can also write to them at specialcases@austrian.com. They also have provisions for service dogs which you can read further on their website.

Read more about their disability policy, go to their website.

Ryan Air

You can request for assistance and accommodations while booking your flight, but you can also pre-book them on their website up to 48 hours prior to departure time. Guide and assistance dogs are accepted on all EU/EAA and domestic flights.

Read about Ryan Air’s disability assistance services, go to their website.

Swiss Air

You can use the following booking form to request support or assistance after you have booked your flight – www.swiss.com
Onboard wheelchairs and aisle chairs are available on request. The armrests in all aircrafts can be removed if required.

Read more about disability support available on Swiss Air, go to their website.

Brussels Airlines

For all assistance and support related queries, you can reach out to the Medical Assistance Co-ordination Service (MEDA) at meda@brusselsairlines.com or + 32 2 723 8014.
You can carry a maximum of two mobility aids with you free of charge.

Read more about disability policy of Brussels Airlines, go to their website.