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AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
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Preparing to Travel

For students with certain disabilities, travelling can be problematic but trust us, if you fully prepare it’s relatively easy. There are a number of things you need to think about in advance of boarding that plane! Click the sections below to have further information drop down.

General Tips & Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What and how much assistance will you need when travelling to your destination?
  • Do you need someone to travel with you or can airline or public transport staff provide you with the necessary assistance?
  • Make sure all your property e.g. luggage, wheelchair is fully labelled with your contact details.
  • Make sure you are provided with written confirmation of everything you will be provided with - assistance boarding, aisle seats, disabled toilet facilities etc.
  • If you are bringing medication you must provide written documentation from your doctor otherwise it may be confiscated by airport security.
  • Take a list of all your medication with you in case it needs to be replaced while you are away.
  • Never travel without appropriate travel insurance. Remember to include assistive technology and specialist equipment on your insurance policy.
  • Pack a spare pair of glasses (if you have one).
  • If you have a long flight and are concerned about deep vein thrombosis, consult with your doctor before flying.
  • When booking a flight, passengers with disabilities should notify their airline when booking if special facilities are required, for example assisted travel. This must be booked in advance. You will be met by an airport or airline representative who will assist you until you board the plane. Upon arrival at your destination you will also be met by an airport or airline representative who will assist you through the airport.

Navigating Airport Security

  • Remember all passengers must undergo a security screening process - be patient and cooperative.
  • If an assistive device can be passed through the security screener without setting it off, it need not be subject to further screening. However, if it does set it off or looks like it could contain a prohibited device or substance, then it will be subject to further screening.
  • If any person requests a private screening, that screening must be accommodated. If it is requested in a timely manner, airport personnel must complete the screening in time for the passenger to board his/her plane.
  • Assistive devices such as walking canes, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted in the passenger cabin. Assistive devices such as augmentative communication devices and Braille note takers will go through the same sort of security screening process as that used for personal computers. However, passengers who have special equipment that cannot go through the x-ray machine should notify the screeners and request a physical/visual inspection of the equipment. A slate and stylus are permitted on board the aircraft after inspection; however, it may be necessary to advise the security screener of the purpose of the slate and stylus and that it facilitates the passenger's communications.
  • Service animals, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted on board an aircraft. Any equipment (including, but not limited to, harness, backpack, leash or collar) that is carried on the animal will be manually inspected. If necessary, remind the security screeners that the service animal's belongings should not be removed during the manual inspection.
  • Syringes are permitted on board an aircraft once it is determined that the person has a documented medical need for the syringe. To show a documented medical need, a passenger must have in his or her possession medication that requires the use of a needle or syringe. The medication must have a professionally printed label identifying the medication or a manufacturer's name or a pharmaceutical label.
  • Airport personnel in some countries may not be familiar with disability-related equipment such as insulin pumps and blood sugar meters, which can cause delays in clearing security. Carry documentation of all medical equipment to present to airport security during the screening process.
  • The limit of one carry-on bag and one personal bag (purse or briefcase) does not apply to medical supplies and/or assistive devices (including service animals and their equipment). Passengers with disabilities generally may carry medical equipment, medications (with appropriate documentation), and assistive devices on board the aircraft.

Travelling with Medications/Insulin

  • People with diabetes can still take insulin with them onto aircraft despite new security restrictions. A letter from your doctor explaining your need to carry syringes/injection devices and insulin should be presented to the airline staff, and if you do encounter any problems you should request to speak to a manager or senior member of staff.
  • If you are visiting your GP specifically for a letter you may be charged for the visit. A letter may also be obtained from you diabetes clinic which you are attending free of charge.
  • Airlines restrictions in emergency situations about what items can be brought onto their aircraft in hand luggage. This leads to concern about travelling with insulin and a number of people have been advised that they must put spare insulin in baggage in the aircraft’s hold. However, based on information from insulin manufacturers storing insulin in baggage which goes into the hold should be avoided, as travelling at altitude may cause the baggage to freeze, which would damage the insulin.
  • Diabetes.ie have spoken to an insulin manufacturer and they have advised, in emergency situations, to place insulin that has to go in the hold, in an airtight container (such as a flask) in the middle of your suitcase. Alternatively, if an airtight container isn’t available, wrap in bubble wrap, then in a towel and again place in the middle of your suitcase. On arrival you must examine the insulin for crystals and discard the insulin if any are found. Even if it looks ok, you should test your blood glucose levels more frequently and if they appear abnormal, discard the insulin as it may be damaged and ineffective.
  • On some airlines, once on board the plane, cabin crew may request that medication be handed over for storage during the flight. For this reason it may be advisable to put insulin and syringes/needles in a separate carrier bag.
  • Those travelling may wish to contact their airline in advance for the most up-to-date information on this issue.

Passengers with Mobility Disabilities

  • For travel on most airlines, people who do not own a wheelchair, but need to use one at the airport, can request one and assistance from airline personnel.
  • Airline personnel will assist passengers who cannot walk to transfer from a wheelchair to an aisle chair (narrow wheelchair) in order to reach their seats.
  • Be prepared to instruct airline personnel on the best way to offer assistance during the boarding process.
  • It is advised that travellers using a manual wheelchair request that their own personal wheelchair be checked at the gate of the aircraft and be brought to the gate upon landing. This is known as immediate delivery, the wheelchair will be tagged with an immediate delivery docket. It will be stored in the cabin if there is room or in the luggage compartment if not. Two days advance notice may be needed for groups of wheelchair users on the same flight or for stowage of a power wheelchair on a flight with less than 60 passenger seats.
  • Remove the cushion and bring to your seat!
  • Some hand built rigid frame manual wheelchairs have small removable sides, these should also be taken into the cabin.
  • Quick release wheels should not be removed from the wheelchair as they may get lost in transit.
  • Stowage of a folding/manual wheelchair has priority over the carry-on luggage of other passengers, but does not require removal of carry-on baggage of passengers who boarded at an earlier stop.
  • Single-aisle airplanes do not have accessible restrooms, so alternative arrangements need to be made to compensate for inaccessible facilities. For those who may need frequent access to toilet facilities, toilets are available at all points at the airport once through passport control and at the boarding gates, so booking shorter segment flights may help. Travellers may also wish to book flights on double-aisle planes. Airplanes with single aisles and greater than 60 seats can also have an aisle chair on board if requested at least 48 hours in advance. Airline personnel can assist with getting to the lavatory on this aisle chair during flight but are not required to assist to or inside the lavatory.
  • International exchange participants who require assistance during travel may wish to bring along a travel companion/personal assistant.

Preparing a Power Wheelchair for Loading on International Flights

  • If flying with a motorized wheelchair or scooter, bring documentation that describes whether the device is powered by a wet, dry, or gel battery. The battery type determines whether the battery must be removed for transit in the airplane.
  • Disconnect the battery.
  • Do not leave the key with the baggage handlers.
  • Bring a spare key!
  • Remember to research recharging your battery before you travel. Find out what the voltage is in the host country. Can the battery manufacturer provide an adaptor or where can you get one?

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