18 informonline.org.au Our advice Flying with mobility equipment Requiring mobility equipment shouldn’t hold you back from taking to the skies, but the reality is that it does take a bit of extra planning before you can board the plane. Most airlines have improved their mobility assistance services over the last couple of years, and it’s now much easier than it used to be to communicate your needs. So what can you take, and how can you make sure it arrives in one piece? Do your research The first step is to do your research. Each airline has its own restrictions, procedures and costs around bringing your own mobility equipment on board. For example, some airlines charge extra if you need a lift to get up the stairs for planes that don’t have an aerobridge, while others offer this service free of charge. Each airline will have this information listed on its website. Alternatively you can call the airline and talk to someone about your needs. Another complicating factor is that while many newer, larger aeroplanes can accommodate full-size mobility scooters and wheelchairs, older and/or smaller aircraft may not have this capability. Where you can go or what you can take may be restricted by the aircraft that flies this route. Again, this is a question you can ask the airline. Finally, it’s important to
Our advice informonline.org.au 19 let the airline know that you will be bringing a mobility aid early, as many aeroplanes can only accommodate a small number of these, and there may already be other people who have booked a spot for a wheelchair or scooter on your flight. Communicate early and often Once upon a time airlines understood “I need mobility assistance” as “I need a wheelchair”, but these days you can communicate your needs with a level of nuance. Communicating your specific needs with the airline well ahead of time will ensure you have the best possible experience. Start by calling when you are booking your ticket to ensure the airline can accommodate your needs. Then call again the day before your travel, to confirm your plans and go over what will happen when you arrive at the airport. Finally, ensure you arrive at the airport with plenty of extra time, as it may take you longer to get to your gate. Whatever your specific needs are, if you communicate them early and often you are more likely to get the individual support you require, rather than being treated as ‘generic disability’. When you arrive at the airport If you give them enough notice some airlines will meet you at your car with a wheelchair. You can request a golf buggy ride if you are more mobile, but may still find the long trip between check in and the final gate too long and strenuous. If you use crutches or walking sticks let the staff at security checkpoints know that you require these aids to walk – if you communicate your needs, they can pass your walking stick(s) through the scanner, and then bring them back to you, to allow you to walk on your own through the security checkpoint. Alternatively, they may provide a wheelchair to get you to the other side. Finally, if you are checking in a wheelchair or scooter, ensure you bring the manual and any tools you may require to disassemble it. Most airlines will require that tall backrests are removed, or they may have other requirements. Ensure you arrive with plenty of time to undertake these tasks, and that you bring someone to assist you, as airlines may not be able to do so. On the plane Remember that being on the plane itself may take some planning. Airline staff are not expected to assist with eating, administering medication, using the toilet or lifting or carrying a passenger. If you are likely to require this type of assistance, you’ll need to bring someone with you who can perform these tasks. If you need a carer, they may be eligible for a Companion Card discount from the airline, which can provide tickets at a significantly reduced cost. Touchdown If you have a stopover, it’s worth checking whether you will have access to your mobility aids. If they have been stored under the aeroplane, the answer is likely no, so come up with a plan for the stopover ahead of time in consultation with the airline. It’s also important to plan what will happen at your final destination. Talk to the airline about where you can pick up your mobility aids, or what assistance may be available in terms of commuting through the airport to pick up your luggage.