OK, so you’ve got the travel bug and want to see more of the world. Below are some suggestions to help make the trip go more smoothly.
1. Call ahead. Service providers are required by law in many cases to accommodate travelers with special needs. However, most need some time to make the necessary arrangements. Mention your needs at the time of reservation, and call the provider 24 to 48 hours before your arrival to confirm that proper accommodations have been made.
2. Be specific and clear when describing a disability. Not all service providers know the “lingo” of accessible travel, or the medical terms for certain conditions. Give as many details as you can about what you can and can’t do, and don’t downplay the severity of the disability. The more information a service provider has, the better they will be able to accommodate you. If they promise you certain accommodations, try to get these promises in writing.
3. Be specific and clear when describing the trip to your doctor. A doctor can often prescribe measures for coping with an unusually long flight, limited medical facilities at your destination, the unavailability of prescription drugs and other pitfalls of traveling. Be prepared — in some cases, your doctor may question the advisability of travel. For more information, see Medications for Travel.
4. Take a doctor’s note and phone number. Travel with a statement from your doctor, preferably on letterhead, covering your condition, medications, potential complications, special needs and other pertinent information. Be sure you have a number where your doctor (or another medical professional) can be reached in an emergency situation at any hour of the day.
5. Bring extra medication. Many experts advise that you travel with two complete packages of essential medication in case of emergency. Store all medications and other necessary medical supplies in your carry-on bag.
6. Investigate physician availability where you will be traveling. Your doctor, health care provider, insurance company or local embassy can provide the names and contact numbers of physicians at your destination.
7. Carry medical alert information, preferably in a place that a medical professional or anyone who assists you will find easily (wallet card, necklace, close to your identification).
8. Consider using a specialist travel agent. Some agents provide stellar niche services; one might be very experienced in working with hearing-impaired travelers, another with developmentally impaired travelers. Since the requirements for these varied travelers can be staggeringly different, it helps to find someone who knows the ropes. Check the agent search feature atto find qualified travel agents across the U.S.
9. Avoid connecting flights. Although wheelchairs are the last items to be checked into the luggage compartments, and thus first to be pulled off, flying direct can save you unnecessary time and hassle. One exception: If you have trouble maneuvering into airplane lavatories, long flights may become uncomfortable — so a series of shorter flights might be a better option. If you do choose to connect, be sure to allow plenty of time between flights (we’d recommend at least 90 minutes, or two hours if you need to go through customs or security) to get from one gate to the next.
10. Allow plenty of time before your flight to check in, get through security and transfer to your gate. Arrive at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight — more if you’re traveling at a peak time.
11. Check in with your flight attendant before your plane lands to make a plan for exit.
12. Don’t forget about transportation to and from the airport. If you have a wheelchair, make arrangements in advance to have an accessible vehicle pick you up in your destination city.
13. Bring spare parts and tools. Wheelchairs can take tremendous abuse while traveling; assemble a small kit of spare parts and tools for emergency repairs. You may also be required to dismantle a wheelchair for certain flights or activities; make sure you and your traveling companions know how to do this.
14. Know your rights. Before going through airport security, be aware of the TSA’s rules for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division has a comprehensive guide to the rights of air travelers with disabilities.