GT IndependenceResources and ToolsResourcesAir Travel Part I: Preparing to Have a Good Travel Experience as a Person with a Disability

Air Travel Part I: Preparing to Have a Good Travel Experience as a Person with a Disability

March 8, 2023

Traveling with a Disability Can Be Tricky ⁠— But It Isn’t Impossible

If you’ve ever traveled with a disability, you know it can be difficult. You might believe it is too difficult to travel by air because of a disability. In fact, 25.5 million Americans ages 5 and older have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. But flying with a disability isn’t impossible if you’re prepared.

1. Know Your Rights Before You Fly

Airlines and airports are becoming more accessible for people with disabilities. But there’s still work to be done to make travel easier for everyone. Knowing the laws and your rights makes you a better self-advocate. And this knowledge can make the experience less stressful for you.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most robust disability law in the U.S. It ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities. This means travelers have a right to accommodations when planning their trips. This can include interpreters and TTY technology.

Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) gives accommodations to people with disabilities to ensure safe travel. It specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel. It also means reasonable accommodations are to be provided free of charge. This law covers passengers of all flights that either leave or arrive in the United States.

Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Assistance with boarding, deplaning and making flight connections
  • Option to pre-board
  • Accessible lavatories
  • Assistive devices not counted toward any carry-on baggage limits

2. Communicate Your Needs Early and Often

Most airlines suggest giving advanced notice of most accommodation needs. You might be able to select a box when you book your ticket to indicate your needs. For some airlines, you have to call ahead to notify them.

“If a passenger does not meet the advance notice or check-in requirement, airlines must make a reasonable effort to provide the requested service, but are not required to delay the flight in order to do so.”

U.S. Department of Transportation

There are certain situations where advanced notice is required by law. One example is traveling with a respirator that needs connected to the airplane’s power supply.

The TSA Cares helpline is available for travelers with disabilities. The helpline can answer questions about policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint. You can also request for someone to assist you through security at the airport. You should call TSA Cares 72 hours before traveling.

3. Pack Your Bags with Anything You May Need

Most airlines allow each passenger one carry-on and one personal bag. But did you know you can also carry a bag specifically for medically-necessary items? Items such as CPAP machine or diabetes monitoring equipment do not count toward your carry-on items. That means you can bring them into the cabin with you for easy access should you need them. (Plus, the airline can’t accidentally lose them with your luggage if they’re with you!)

Make sure to keep doctor’s notes, emergency contacts, and any necessary medical information in your carry-on. They should be in a place that is easy to get to in case you need them.

If you are traveling with medical equipment, always pack extras. A good rule of thumb is to bring double what you would normally need. That means on a three-day trip, you should bring six days worth of supplies. Also, keep medications in original containers with labels whenever possible.

4. How Are You Getting to the Airport?

Plan to arrive at the airport extra early. Yes, even earlier than is already recommended! Arriving at least two hours before takeoff is suggested for domestic flights. You should arrive even earlier for international travel.

Leaving Your Car vs Being Dropped Off

If you are planning to drive yourself to the airport, there will be parking lots where you can leave your car while you are away, for a fee. In some places, long-term parking can be very expensive. Check with your departure airport for the associated costs. Safety can be a concern with airport lots. Many airports offer security for their long-term lots.

You can always choose to have a friend or family member drop you off in the Departures area of the airport. A rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft could also be an option, depending on where you live. Or, if your city has public transit such as buses or trains, they may have airport routes.

Getting to the Airport Check-In Counter

Another thing to keep in mind is how you will get from the parking lot or drop off point to the airport check-in counter. Some airports are very large, and have even bigger parking lots as a result. But, many of these larger airports have shuttle services to and from the long-term parking lots. You will want to check with the airport for information about their shuttles.

Air Travel Part II: How to Have a Successful Flight As a Person with a Disability

Our next blog post covers what to expect when you’re at the airport. We include tips for getting through the TSA security checkpoint. It also discusses boarding the plane, and what to expect in the air.