Flying with Disabilities – Tips and Tricks

From the Desk of Guest Editor, Rebecca Fortelka

Traveling on an airplane can be one of the most daunting activities for people with disabilities. But we hope your future air travel will be less stressful if you utilize the follow the tips in this handy article. Now sit back, relax, and prepare to go on relaxing read!

Booking a Flight

  • Always consult with a travel agency like AAA or an agency that deals exclusively with travel for disabled folks (although these specialty agencies can be expensive).
  • Once you have chosen a carrier, it is suggested that you fully describe your limitations and needs in basic terms so they are easily understood.
  • Get your airline ticket and boarding pass on apps digitally, with the likes of Passbook or your specific airline carrier app, which prevents headaches and long lines.
  • Once you find the type/model of aircraft, you may contact the carrier via phone or social media to find out the layout of the plane and bathroom type. Most airlines are active on Twitter so this is the best way to ask questions.
  • Ask the agent to note any allergies or intolerances you may have. This could give you the chance to clean off your area while pre-boarding. If you do have food allergies, not all special meals will work for you, so you may need to prepare and bring your own food.
  • You'll need to find out how you'll be boarding the airplane at each of the airports involved in your trip. To avoid stairs, you may need another type of airplane or to request an alternative route which utilizes jetways or jet bridges into the plane from the airport.
  • If you require an aisle chair, this ordinarily needs to be arranged several months in advance.

TSA Tips

  • TSA Cares is a help line to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA recommends that passengers call 72 hours ahead of travel for information about what to expect during screening.
  • Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares will serve as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances or their loved ones who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying.  Travelers may also request a Passenger Support Specialist ahead of time by calling the TSA Cares hotline at 1-855-787-2227. Go to this link to find more info on your specific needs.
  • Carry your health insurance information with you on the plane and through TSA. Know what you'll do if you encounter a health problem or medical emergency on your trip and carry an action plan with detailed instructions and emergency contacts.
  • Get travel insurance to ensure less costly medical assistance. It will give piece of mind.
  • Make sure you carry your medications and back-up prescriptions with you onto the plane, along with doctors' names, addresses, fax numbers for faxing prescriptions, phone numbers, medical diagnosis, names and dosages of medications you're taking and any allergies you have.
  • Photocopy passports, credit cards, any other important papers.

Once on Plane

  • Make flight attendants aware of your needs, they maybe able to help you be more comfortable.
  • Bring noise canceling headphones and some fun activities to relax and pass the time.
  • If you will be traveling through different time zones, how will jet lag affect your situation? Plan accordingly.
  • After the plane has landed, never get off the plane until you see or have your assisting device, wheelchair, travel wheelchair, etc. Flight attendants have to stay on the airplane until the last passenger leaves. They will help you while you're on the plane but once you're off the plane they won't be able to assist you.
  • Ask if the gate agent if he/she can call your ride or coordinate a taxi for you once you exit the plane.

Transportation from Airport

NOTE: While the majority of the below information is specific to the San Francisco Airport and to the East Bay area, you may use these items to prompt you to find like services in other cities. 

  •  Learn about paratransit and accessible taxis for people with disabilities in San Francisco, including eligibility for services and what types of services are provided. Paratransit services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the city. Call SF Paratransit at 415-351-7052 for more information about service areas or to report a problem with taxi services.
  • Visit Guide to San Francisco Paratransit & Accessible Taxi Service.
  •  Uber and LYFT are currently being sued for not providing services to the disabled and may not be a good source of  disabled transportation (but results may vary).
  • If you are choosing to rent a car, Budget or Enterprise will be able to help you find a car that fits your needs. But if you need specialized hand-controls or a lift we suggest Wheelchair Getaways.
  • If you choose to use public transit we suggest using www.bart.gov
  • www.511.org (Public Transit Trip Planner for suggested routes/times etc…)
  • Google Map’s new public transportation button will help you find an accessible route (icon looks like a bus)

We hope you find this informational and it makes your trip easier!