Air Travel & Pre-Boarding Tips For Differently Abled Business Travelers
by Misty Diaz
My name is Misty Diaz. I am a Brand Consultant, Adaptive Athlete, and Motivational Speaker, so I travel a lot for work. I was born with Spina Bifida and had 30 operations before I turned 30. While traveling with a disability does present some challenges, it doesn’t stop me from doing what I love.
What are some air travel with disabilities tips?
In this blog, I'll highlight my top tips for travelers' needs for people who want to air travel with disabilities. These are important to consider when planning your next flight. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, it's important to know what steps you can take before and during the trip to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
Why I love traveling despite my disability
I found my love for disabled traveling in 2015 after falling in love with racing Spartan Races and public speaking. Growing up I wasn’t able to travel a lot due to having so many operations, so when I started to get healthy and live life more independently, I was ready! My disability requires me to wear leg braces and walk with forearm crutches, so having a free hand and multitasking is a little bit of a challenge, but we get it done… here are my tips when you are ready to hit the road.
Traveling with Disabilities Tip #1: Call Ahead
Even though I walk independently with crutches, it's better to be safe than sorry, so I always call ahead. At LAX for example, the terminals are pretty far from check-in (depending on the airline). By calling ahead and arriving early (2-3 hours), I’m able to ask the airline to put pre-board and wheelchair assist on my ticket, which then allows me (and my bags) to be escorted in a wheelchair with ease to my flight. You can even ask for special assistance if you are hard of hearing, or need vision assistance.
Traveling with Disabilities Tip #2: How to Handle TSA
For me, wearing leg braces means when I put my shoes on, they are staying on. It's hard for me to bend forward to put my shoes on independently, so as soon as I place my bags onto the conveyor belt, I ask for a TSA pat-down with a Female TSA officer (“Female Assist”). They don’t remove or lift any clothing and you can choose to go to a private room if you prefer.
I politely tell them I’m wearing leg braces and they check my shoes by swabbing them down with a cloth to make sure I’m not carrying or handling any explosives. Sounds crazy right? Well…so does struggling to put my shoes back on, so I thank them for being so thorough and proceed to my gate.
Traveling with Disabilities Tip #3: Wear Functional and Comfortable Clothing
I travel alone quite often and I like to have easy access to my documents, driver's license without stopping to dig in my backpack, or anything else I might need from check-in until I sit on the plane. I bought a super cool roll-up vest that has pockets on the outside and inside! It rolls up compact and is perfect to have on you in case it gets cold or to add some flare to your wardrobe. You can easily attach it to a carry-on or side pocket of a suitcase.
Traveling with Disabilities Tip #4: Make Your Seat Comfier for Your Flight
I’m always looking for ways to be comfortable, unfortunately, due to my disability around L5 on my spine, I have a major curve and I don’t sit right. Sitting in a seat can be rather painful, especially on long flights. So after I wipe my seat down with sanitizing wipes (I always carry 4-5 in my carry-on), I use my awesome blow-up pillow and put it right where my curve is. It allows me to stay upright and be comfortable. It comes with a hook attachment and it's super lightweight. When I was in Japan it came in handy not just on my flight but also on the trains I took around the city.
Traveling with Disabilities Tip #5: Get a Suitcase with Accessible Features
I have owned so many suitcases and out of all the Lucas Luggage has been the best in regards to working with me and not against me. Walking on crutches and pushing a suitcase might seem impossible, it's not! Lucas makes ultra lightweight, expandable sides with side storage, and the kicker 360 dual spinner wheels so the suitcase goes with me not against. Oh and I always find this brand at TjMaxx for super cheap. Even if you don’t get this brand these features would be great in general.
I understand it can be stressful to be a traveler and on top of having a disability it can be scary, but I promise you, babe, you can do anything!
Give yourself time, have confidence, research online, and one last thing that’s really helped me, is connecting to other individuals who have my disability and or a non-profit that’s in the area that I'll be traveling to.
It might sound scary, but I’ve had my bags go missing and I only had my carry-on medical supplies, so by connecting to someone who shares my condition I was able to get extra medical supplies. Plus what a cool way to connect to friends!
More Air Travel with Disabilities Tips for Your Trip
Always bring a good book…right now I am reading How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.
Carry a stainless insulated clip cup that I can clip onto my carry-on, make sure it’s empty then fill up after you get through security.
Bring 3 extra days of medical supplies and label them in zip locks per day.
Label all medications with packing extra days.
Pack a handheld-mirror. Because my disability has affected my height I am not always able to use hotel mirrors.
Always pack snacks.
Bring a portable charger.
If you have an iPad, download a movie or two on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
When you get to your gate let them know that you’re there, that way when they start to pre-board they can give you enough time to get on and you don’t feel so overwhelmed.
Above all, have fun and take pictures, try new things, and be open to new opportunities. Hopefully, my helpful hints can make things a little easier for you.
You got this! Thanks for reading my article!
You can keep reading if you want some more travel advice and frequently asked questions about traveling with a disability.
Can a person on disability travel?
Yes, people with physical and medical disabilities can travel, and I encourage it! However, there are a few things to consider before booking your flight. Aside from all my advice above, there are a few other things to consider.
Be sure to get travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions. Also, check with the country you're visiting to see if there are any restrictions on medicines. Finally, research disability organizations or resources at your destination so you know where to go for help when you arrive. If you're traveling with an electric wheelchair, be sure to pack a plug adapter and voltage converter just in case.
Can a person in a wheelchair fly on an airline?
Yes, a person in a wheelchair can fly on an airline. In fact, the Department of Transportation has specific rules and regulations in place to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to air travel. There are a few things you should do to make your flight as smooth as possible. First, allow yourself plenty of time - at least two hours for domestic flights and connecting flights. Second, consider arranging wheelchair assistance with the airline ahead of time. You can do this by contacting the airline's special assistance line or through their website. Third, review TSA guidelines for special procedures related to flying with a disability. Finally, inform the gate agent that you need assistance so that everyone in your group can preboard the plane.
Who is exempt from TSA screening?
TSA screening is a process of security inspection to determine whether an individual or object may be allowed to pass through airport checkpoints. No one is exempt from TSA screening unless you are flying on a charter plane. Travelers can avoid pat-downs by signing up for TSA Precheck.
How is traveling with disabilities different from people without disabilities?
If a family or friend of yours is traveling with disabilities, you can support them and make their air travel experience better. If you've read this article and still want help on traveling with disabilities, you can reach out to your airline to see what else you can do to be supportive.
Plan in Advance
One of the main things to remember when traveling with a disability is to plan in advance. This includes knowing what challenges you may face and doing your research on ADA compliance for different modes of transportation and destinations. Keep in mind that while U.S hotels, transportation, and cruise ships sailing in US waters are required to be ADA-compliant, their foreign equivalents may not be compliant with ADA. For more help, check out Mobility International USA's website which has articles on charging wheelchair batteries and taking a service animal abroad.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll in their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. This way, the embassy can contact you in case of an emergency or if there is a problem with your travel plans. When you enroll in STEP, you also provide information about your upcoming trips, such as your name, passport number, and dates of travel.
Use a Specialized Travel Agent or Company
There are a number of ways travelers with physical limitations can make air travel easier. One option is to use a specialized travel agent or company that has firsthand knowledge of accessible places. There are also companies that run trips specifically for those in wheelchairs, which can take the hassle out of planning your trip.
Arrange Accessible Accommodation
When traveling with a disability, there are some important things to consider in order to have a smooth and comfortable experience. One of the most important things is arranging accessible accommodation. This includes finding out if your destination is accessible and making sure that your hotel room or other accommodations are set up to meet your needs. If you're traveling to a less accessible destination, it's helpful to work with an agent who specializes in accessible travel. They can advise on which hotels are accessible and help arrange private transportation for you.
Try to Replicate the Home Routine
If you are traveling with a disability, it is important to try and replicate your home routine as much as possible. This will help reduce the amount of stress and anxiety that can come with traveling. Make sure to pack all of the necessary items, such as assistive devices, medications, and medical supplies. If you are planning an independent trip, be sure to consider what needs to be done at home in order for you to be comfortable while away. Some hotels are ADA compliant and have features such as grab bars and a roll-in shower. If your hotel is not ADA compliant, ask if they have enough room for a wheelchair or if there is another entrance that would be more accessible for you.
Arrange Assistance While Flying
If you are traveling with a disability, it is important to plan ahead and arrange assistance with the airline. Make sure to check-in at the counter for wheelchair assistance, and be sure to review TSA guidelines for special procedures. It is also helpful to preboard the plane so that you can remind the gate agent of your needs.