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Here we provide information about the different stages of taking a flight to help you plan ahead of booking. Please ask us a question if you have a query not listed.
The information has a United Kingdom perspective - if you are travelling to another continent, accessibility laws are likely to be different which may impact on your flight and other aspects of your journey. Always inform your airline of your requirements at least 48 hours in advance of your flight, when travelling from any European Airport.
Frequently Asked Questions
Being Flight Ready
If you are in any doubt about flying due to a medical condition, check with your doctor or health care professional before you arrange your holiday and flights.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Aviation Health Unit (AHU) is a source of up-to-date information and advice about health issues and flying. You can contact the AHU on 01293 573674 or by email here. Their website provides guidance on medical issues that may affect your journey and visit to a foreign country.
Passengers with a breathing condition can find out more from the British Lung Foundation. Some passengers are asked to take a ‘fit to fly’ test where they can experience lower pressures before they fly.
Take all necessary medication required for the duration of your holiday plus a few days spare to allow for any delays in returning home. Not all medication is available abroad so you may wish to take complete spare bottles of medication should one be accidentally dropped.
Remember to check websites of the countries being visited for banned substances as not all UK medicines are automatically allowed into another country, e.g codeine is a banned substance in the United Arab Emirates.
Take copies of recent repeat prescription requests, letter from G.P &/or Consultants stating each medication used & the dose.
Each passenger will have different requirements.
- Consider the destination and it’s appropriateness for all your requirements.
- If you are in any doubt about flying due to a medical condition, check with your doctor
- Always inform your airline of your requirements when booking
- Using the toilet can be challenging for some
- Consider the options available to you when transferring onto the aircraft
Taking a flight for the first time can be a stressful experience, but for people with a learning disability that stress can be multiplied. What follows are some suggestions on how to minimize the anxiety and the potential for surprises. Each passenger will have different requirements
- Operators will differ in the service they provide
- Thorough planning can be very important
- Build up to travel in an aircraft
- Request an escort at your airport
- Pick a short flight — an hour or so.
- Tell your child what to expect, including delays and long waits, in the airport and on the airplane.
For your own safety some airlines insist that you travel with a travelling partner if you need help lifting yourself and communicating with crew relating to safety matters. You can request an escort to assist you though the airport if required. Some people may have difficulty in crowds or waiting in long lines. Call the airline ahead to alert them that you might need to board early or require additional assistance onboard. Pack a carry-on bag with anything that might be soothing during a rough patch. Be sure to include documentation of your child’s diagnosis that you can share with security and airline personnel.
Some people have challenging behaviours and may want to free themselves from the aircraft seat. It is not possible to use products that stop the aircraft’s safety belt from being tampered with. This is because of aviation regulations which require the aircraft safety belt to have a single point of release. The Crelling Model 27SB has it’s own chest tamper proof buckle which does not interfere with aircraft safety belt. We recommend trying this out first, and always consult with your airline before you fly.
Thorough preparation and planning can be very important for people with a learning disability. Some people will want to thoroughly prepare for every leg of their journey. It can be helpful to know about the layout of the airports you are travelling through (see Airport Terminal Maps and Mapquest) and to experience the confines of an aircraft fuselage or other form of transport ahead of the flight.
Your airline may provide their own guidance, for example, British Airways provides a helpful guide. Philadelphia International Airport provides a story that can be read to children to help them prepare for their flight.
Visit the airport ahead of time to familiarize yourself or your child. Some American airports provide a mock boarding experience Washington Dulles International and Boston. If none is available, call your local airport to see if they will allow you to show your child the ticketing counters, security lines and waiting areas in advance. Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, provides additional online resources and travel tips.
Because of the risk that swelling inside a cast can affect the circulation, many airlines restrict flying during the first 24 or 48 hours after a cast has been fitted. If you need to fly before then, the airline will usually require the cast to be split along its full length before you fly, as any swelling will not then affect the circulation. This can be arranged at the hospital. You may also have to make arrangements to have the cast replaced once you reach your destination. It is helpful to carry a letter confirming the date and time of application of the cast, especially if you have not had the cast split. Speak with your airline ahead of flying.
If you have a broken arm or leg, you may not be able to sit in an emergency exit row, because you may need to move quickly if there’s an emergency. Also, if you have a broken leg and are unable to bend your knee to sit normally, you may be required to purchase additional seats so that you have enough space. This will also allow you to elevate the leg during flight and will reduce any swelling that would occur if you kept the leg down. More information is available from UK CAA and NHS.
It is advisable to take out specialist insurance for your holiday and mobility equipment. If your mobility equipment is damaged in transit the United Nation’s Montreal Convention sets out airlines compensation responsibilities.
Some families take out specialist insurance for one adult & their disabled child in their travelling party and the other adult & siblings take out standard insurance/single parent insurance to save some expense. However it would probably not be possible for the family to stay together should a situation arise It’s possible to ‘top up’ some standard policies but, sometimes specialist insurance is necessary, we do not endorse any companies. If you are flying with the support of a charitable foundation they often provide a list of insurers.
More information on the importance of insurance can be found here.
It is advisable to take out specialist insurance for your journey and any mobility equipment that you may use. If your mobility equipment is damaged in transit, the legal limit that an airline or airport can compensate you is currently approximately £1200. Specialist travel insurers are likely to be more familiar with your disability or and specific medical conditions and can be helpful in finding the right product for your peace of mind.
Listed alphabetically below is a list of companies that provide insurance for travellers with disabilities. Please note we are not able to endorse any particular product or company.
At the Airport
Always inform your airline of your accessibility needs when booking your flights and at least 48 hours in advance of your flight if you have not already done so when travelling from any European country.
Take a look at the airports you are travelling from and too using helpful airport guides, for example London Heathrow Airport airport guide.
If you have a sensory, physical or learning disability which affects your mobility when using transport, at European airports you have the right to:
- help at specific arrival points, such as at terminal entrances, at transport interchanges and in car parks
- help to reach check-in
- help with registration at check-in
- help with moving through the airport, including to toilets if you need it
You’ll also have the right to help because of your age or a temporary illness or injury - eg you’ve broken your leg and it’s in a cast. For more information see here.
Your airline is responsible for recording your requirements and relaying information to the airports you are travelling through. This is recorded as a Special Service Request (SSR) and is sent directly to suppliers to communicate traveler preferences, special services needed by a traveler, or of a procedural requirement necessary of the carrier. It can be helpful to see these codes to see how your requirements are assessed.
On arrival at the airport proceed to your airline’s check in desk. It can be helpful and reassuring to have copies of any agreements/emails about the equipment you will be bringing on board. If you use a wheelchair you will be given a luggage tag to attach to your wheelchair. This is so that when it is transferred into the hold there is accurate information. Take a look at the airports on line guides that you are travelling from and too so that you know the location of services and facilities that are important to you, for example London Heathrow Airport airport guide.
In most circumstances passengers remain in their own wheelchair until actually boarding the aircraft. Very occasionally this may not be possible. Aircraft storage or hold restrictions may require your wheelchair and seating system to be dismantled prior to loading. Some experienced travellers tell us they take their own lap-belt to provide additional support if transferring to an airport wheelchair at check in.
If you are bringing any additional seating equipment with you for the flight it is advisable to bring copies of any correspondence you have regarding the special assistance you have booked. Keep these documents for your return journey.
If you use a mobility aid you are likely to undergo additional checks as you proceed to the departure lounge via security. This is because the wheelchair or other mobility equipment could be a place for storing illegal goods. Some passengers will have their clothing swabbed at security and tested. This is a very simple and quick procedure. More information on this and medical implants is available here.
Once through security you arrive at the departure lounge to wait for your Gate number to be announced. The gate is the final waiting area at the airport before you board and can be a considerable distance from the departure lounge. Many airports provide a guide to the distances and times you can expect to travel between the departure lounge and gates. Airport Terminal Maps and MapQuest is useful if you want to know more about your airport.
It is recommended by the UK CAA to ask your doctor well in advance for a letter to take in your hand luggage with details of your condition and any implants. This can be presented when going through security should you need to make them aware. More information can be found from the UK CAA.
Boarding and Seat Transfer
As a disabled person flying with a European operator you are allowed to take two pieces of Mobility equipment in addition to your luggage allowance free of charge. This won’t count as part of your baggage allowance within the EU This includes walking aids like a walking frame and wheelchair. Check your airline’s website for more information.
Some airlines do not charge for transporting nappies, pads, specialised formula milks, car seats, booster seats, wheelchair trays etc. Although these & other items will be taken from you when you hand over your cases, the weight of these items is not counted when working out weight limits. Other airlines can charge for all the aforementioned items. Check with the airline that you are travelling with
Remember that if you use an air filled cushion that it can over inflate, affected by the changes in air pressure in the aircraft, so it is wise to check with your manufacturers instructions.
Once you have boarded, your wheelchair is quickly taken to the hold to prevent the risk of delay to the flight. Very occasionally it is stowed in the cabin. It is a good idea to remove any loose components, eg footrests, cushions and protect any vulnerable parts like the controller.
Very occasionally, wheelchairs are damaged in transit. If your wheelchair is provided by a UK NHS wheelchair service let them know before you fly that you plan on taking your wheelchair and they can advise you about your conditions of loan and taking out insurance if necessary. If it is your own wheelchair make sure your holiday insurance covers this.
You should pre-notify your airline, travel agent or tour operator if you use a powered wheelchair or mobility aid. This is because batteries may be hazardous and need special storage. All powered wheelchairs must have their power immobilised before they are stored on the aircraft. This can present the ground handling team with a challenge given the variety of powered chairs. Consider using a simple AirSafe device which immobilises the power and saves handling teams the hassle of working out how to do it. A video is available. Always check with your airline if you are unsure. For more info see here or on Twitter at #aviation #travel #safetyfirst
You can search The British Healthcare Trades Association extensive list to find your wheelchair and see what the airline will need to do before it is loaded.
Most airlines will permit you to take your child in his/her wheelchair to the door of the aircraft. Some will need it to be relinquished at the boarding gate. Very occasionally, wheelchairs may be stored on board in one of the cabins but this depends on the airline, the type of aircraft used on that particular route on that particular flight, the number of passengers on board etc. This is unusual.
If you require medication or liquid dietary foods on your journey you’ll need to check with your airline before you fly and declare it at security. It’s likely you will need a letter from your doctor if it is over 100ml and you plan to carry it in your hand luggage. You’ll also need to carry the medication separately and declare it at security. A list of controlled medicines is available.
If you are not able to fit all of your essential medicines into your hand luggage you may still be allowed to carry these in your hold baggage. Contact the airline to make sure they know you will be carrying medical supplies and equipment and check if they have any additional requirements. You’ll need a letter from your doctor explaining what they’re for if you need to carry medicines and medical equipment such as needles or syringes.. Check medication rules in your destination country. Some countries don’t allow certain medication to be brought in. Check any restrictions with the country’s embassy or high commission.
If you require additional support discuss this with your operator. There are a number of seating support systems that are used by UK and European airlines. Some airlines will provide support systems to passengers free of charge and others do not but will allow you to bring your own model on board. Always check with your airline when you book to see which they allow, and especially if you are transferring flights to another operator.
Bringing your own or specialist seating system can be problematic. Seating supports can affect the dynamics of aircraft seats and obstruct crew from ensuring passenger’s safety. It may also not fit. For these reasons operators generally say ‘no’ except in rare circumstances. However check at booking. Customers who wish to bring seating or support equipment are responsible for checking that it may be used on their flight. Whilst most UK registered airlines allow some devices on board, we strongly recommend you inform your airline at the earliest opportunity and at least 48 hours in advance. Always discuss with the operator. You are welcome to bring your seat support to a Tryb4uFly assessment to try out, so that you can clarify it’s use with your airline.
This is important because some equipment has restrictions on where it can be used on particular aircraft which impacts your seat location. We recommend bringing written confirmation of this when you travel. This can help when you meet different staff at the airport and airline.
You cannot remain in your wheelchair in the aircraft. This is due to the safety demands that flying places on all equipment used in the cabin due and stringent safety regulations. You can normally remain in your wheelchair until you actually step into the cabin.
Once you arrive at your gate, notify staff of your accessibility requirements. Passengers with restricted mobility are normally invited to board the aircraft before other passengers.
Generally aircraft are accessed by a ‘jetty’ or ‘airbridge’. This is manoeuvred into place between the airport gate and aircraft. The jetty often has a slight slope. There is an area immediately outside the aircraft door with space where you can transfer between your wheelchair and the airport transfer chair if you are unable to move down the aisle. Bear in mind that your destination airport may not have the same boarding facilities so check with your airline.
Use a system like the Promove to help with transfers – come to tryb4ufly to try it out.
At this point your wheelchair will be taken to the hold.
An Ambilift (like this at London Gatwick or Stairlift like the AAT S max is in use at many UK and European Airports, and quite often used with smaller aircraft. Aircraft Stairclimbers are alternatives which can be deployed if required however your operator should inform you of their availability at your departure and arrival airports.
At some airports you will use an airport bus shuttle. This takes you to the aircraft on a remote stand. Steps lead from the runway up to the aircraft. At some airports an Ambilift is available. This is a vehicle which can lift a passenger up to the aircraft door. Check with your airline if this is available as not all airports will have this.
Once in the transfer chair, the ground service team will pull you backwards down the aircraft aisle. There is usually a small step at the aircraft door from the jetty. This is narrow so it can fit down the aircraft aisle. It has a lap belt and straps to keep you safely secured. They tend not to have much upper body support which can be disconcerting if this is what you are used too. Watch out for the aircraft seat arm rests as you are moved especially if you have delicate skin or prone to muscle spasms.
If you use a walker, it is unlikely you will be able to use this to get to your seat because the aisle is narrow. Instead you will be offered the aisle chair.
If you use a wheelchair you will transfer twice when boarding. One from your wheelchair to the aisle chair, the second from the aisle chair to your aircraft seat. Generally it will be the airport assistance team, and not cabin crew that will assist you.
At boarding you will be offered a transfer chair similar to the Columbia Transfer chair. Because this chair needs to take you down the aisle of the aircraft it is very narrow. If you or your travelling partner experience spasms you may want to consider a means of preventing arms from getting hurt when proceeding backwards down the aisle.
If you need help transferring from your wheelchair to the transfer chair The Promove sling provides a more comfortable and dignified solution. It is quick and simple to use, when transferring by hoist is not an option it is available at some airports. Some airports use more basic sling straps to lift passengers into their seats. Some airports use these, other passengers bring their own. If you are concerned about transferring we recommend booking an assessment at Tryb4ufly to try before your flight. Transfer boards are also used.
Most European airlines provide seats that can supports you as you navigate down the aisle to the toilet, similar to the Air+Chair.
In-Flight and Landing
Various categories of passengers are not allowed to sit in exit row seats. This is not negotiable.
Airlines will try to seat families together, but, if there is a larger group travelling together, say, 8 or more members, it may not be possible to do so in the configuration that you want. For more information see here.
Making your way down the aisle can be an inconvenience so sometimes you will be allocated seats near the front of the aircraft. It is likely that you will be asked to sit on a window seat – which may mean transferring across the adjacent seats. If you are using special seating supports there may be restrictions governing where this can be used. For example the TravelChair can only be used where there is no passenger sat directly behind – frequently with the bulkhead directly behind the occupant.
A bulkhead is a physical partition that divides a plane into different classes or sections. Typically, a bulkhead is a wall but can also be a curtain or screen and can be found throughout the plane, separating the seats from the galley and lavatory areas. There are pro’s and cons of bulkhead seats, for more information see here.
More information on aircraft seat pitch.
If you use a wheelchair and require support to help you remain upright and comfortable, it is highly unlikley that you will be able to bring your specialist seat on board the aircraft to use. For this reason, there are a number of products which can be used in the cabin to help you remain comfortable. These are available to try at our Tryb4ufly assessment centres, and also to hire.
It is very important to check with your airline at least 48 hours before you travel that you can bring this equipment on board. This is because each airline has its own set of rules regarding what can and cannot be used on board specific aircraft, and their staff are trained to use. Airlines registered outside the EU will sometimes have different regulations that they will need to comply with, and all supports must be used in conjunction with the aircraft safety seat belt.
The MERU TravelChair provides disabled children with a broad range of physical support when travelling in an aircraft. The size of a small suitcase, it is approved for use on aircraft by EASA and opens up to provide head, shoulder, waist, hip and leg support.
It can only be used in locations where there is no passenger sat directly behind the occupant of the TravelChair, for example where there is a bulkhead wall directly behind, or at the rear of the aircraft. There is a size and weight restriction and it is only for aircraft, NOT vehicular use. The training video is available here.
Many airlines allow it's use on board and some have their own fleet of TravelChairs provided free of charge to customers. As with any additional support it is essential to check with your airline in advance if you wish to bring on board.
Burnett Body Support
The Burnett Body Support is a bean filled cushion which can be easily moulded and set into a shape when you board the aircraft and placed into the aircraft seat. It comes in a range of sizes and different covers and there are supports for the head and neck to make travelling more comfortable. It can also be used in conjunction with Harness type supports to provide additional upper body support.
The Stabilo Cushion is similar to the Burnet Body Support and comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The cushion can be instantly re-shaped on demand to relieve sensitive areas or modelled so that it supports the user’s body as required. The ‘Comfortable’, ‘Comfortable Plus’ and ‘Comfortable Plus Duo’ are popular for use in aircraft seat.
Crelling Harness Model no.27
The Crelling Harness provides the ‘Model 27’ for passengers who are generally adult sized and require upper body support. There are 3 sizes available. Those with a suffix ‘SB’ have a safety buckle which is tamper proof and suitable for people with challenging behaviours. The models are 27I (Infant to 5 years) 27A (5 to 8 years) and 27B (9 years to adult).
It is essential that passengers check with their airline before they fly and to note that most airlines will restrict the locations that it can be used, to those where there is no passenger sat directly behind.
The Cares harness
The Cares harness is a lightweight product which provides additional support for children when flying weighing between 22 and 44lbs (10 and 20kg) It can be used by disabled children. A training video is available on the home page. It is quick to install and lightweight.
If the occupant’s weight is over 44 pounds (20kg) there are some important considerations. It can only be used in aircraft seats where the bulkhead is directly behind. Also if using on board an American registered airline there is an ‘exemption’ process which you need to apply from the FAA. This takes approx 6 – 8 weeks.
A version called ‘Special Cares Airplane Safety Harness’ is available for children and adults over 5 feet tall. The same restrictions apply.
Wedge cushions can be a used to help modify the seat angle of the aircraft seat. By using the cushion with the thick end of the wedge in the corner of the aircraft seat means that the angle of your seating is slightly increased. Bringing your own cushion on board is generally acceptable however please check with your airline before you travel.
Universal elastic strap. Some passengers require additional body support around the waist. Many aircraft seat are ‘snug’ so having a moderate amount of upper body support is all that’s required. Please check with your airline if you wish to use these as they can have an effect on the passenger seated behind, meaning that your seat location may need consideration.
For passengers that require a small degree of extra support or comfort there are many affordable and readily available small cushions that can be used and brought on board. Some cushions are bright and colourful and have a character theme which may be helpful for some young children. You can find these here.
Always check with your airline before you fly if you want to bring use your child’s car seat in the cabin. Surprisingly, airlines have different approaches regarding their carriage, with some accepting particular car seats and others refusing car seats completely.
Always speak with your airline regarding the medical equipment you want to bring aboard at least 48 hours in advance of your flight.
If using suction equipment remember to take spare tubing, yankeurs, canister, lid and rubber depending on the type used. You may want to label the container or bag that houses the suction equipment, with your mobile number or email address. Ensure the battery is fully charged and that you have spares should the journey take longer than anticipated.
Take a the car charger if you have one so the unit can be charged in the car when travelling if necessary. Remember to take a voltage adapter so you can charge the unit in your accommodation.
Always check with your airline if you want to use your child's car seat. Generally, airlines will need to know that it conforms to the car seat standards that are used in Europe or the United States. Airlines frequently provide a list of crieteria or standards on line that you can view when booking your flight. Bear in mind that larger car seats may not fit into the aicraft seat, so if you are concerned about this speak to your airline direct. Children under the age of 2 years do not require their own aircraft seat and are instead allowed to sit on their parents lap.
The FAA have a helpful video which explains how car seats are fitted on US registered airlines. Child booster cushions are generally not allowed on board. If you are planning on using your child's car seat in the country you are flying too, do check that it conforms to the standards in that country. For example, not all European tested child car seats are approved for use in the United States, because their testing standards are different.
Some feed methods require pumps which can contain dry-cell batteries. Inform your airline at the point of booking so the airline’s special assistance booking unit can check for use before the flight. Most airlines do not provide an aircraft electrical supply for passenger medical equipment and therefore your equipment will have to be battery-powered if you wish to be able to use it during flight. All batteries, including any spare batteries, must meet the airline requirements for carriage, whether carried as hand baggage or in your hold baggage. Remember to have spare batteries incase any part of your journey takeslonger than palnned.
Some feed companies have reciprocal arrangements with their offices abroad & can arrange for a pump and feed to be delivered to your hotel/villa/ apartment. This is usually free but do check. This is very useful, as this pump supplied in the country that you are visiting will be wired for that country’s electricity supply/voltage.
This video shows the journey of Andrew, who has Cerebral Palsy and the preparations his Mum takes before a flight.
Disembarking and Arrivals
Even with the most meticulous planning, plans can change! There is not much you can do about a change in aircraft or delays caused by volcanic ash. Always speak directly to your airline in the first instance, and consider what is particularly important to you if there’s a delay and what arrangements you can put in place in the event of the unforseen happening.
It is possible that due to reasons beyond the airlines control that your flight is changed. Speak to the carrier’s special assistance booking unit to ensure that all booking details have been transferred to the new flight.
If you need to change any flight details it is your responsibility to ensure that you advise the operator that you require the TravelChair as part of your trip and that it is still required on the new flight/s.
If you receive poor service contact the relevant service provider. If you are not satisfied with their response contact the UK CAA who are the UK’s National Enforcement Body for Regulation (EC) 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility. If you flew with an operator not registered within the United Kingdom you can contact that county’s Civil Aviation Authority to find the agency responsible. The EU legislation applies to all airlines flying into Europe, and all airports within Europe.
Denied Boarding Regulation applies to all passengers travelling from within the EU and includes compensation for delays in excess of two hours.
If you are travelling to or from the US, The Air Carriers act can also apply to your flight, more information can be found from reduced mobility.
More information about your right to fly can be found in this helpful publication produced by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.