These days holidaying isn’t as easy as it used to be. Flying with a disabled child throws up no end of complications.
But travel is in my bones, and I will do everything I can to ensure William gets to experience foreign holidays and has the same travel opportunities as other children his age. However, I know many parents panic about flying with a disabled child so here are my top tips which I hope will convince you it’s not as scary or impossible as it sounds!
Research & Booking Your Flight
Now this sounds really obvious, and everyone spends some time researching their holidays before they book, but when you are flying with a disabled child it’s even more important. Write a list of things you need to find out and then spend a few months ticking them off the list. That way you aren’t rushing it and it isn’t a stressful job.
For the purposes of this blog I am focussing purely on your flight but I will be back with another post soon to help you to research and plan the other aspects of your holiday. After I’ve persuaded you that flying is possible of course!
Of course, most people would suggest that cost is the most important factor to consider when booking a flight but with a disabled child I’d say there are a few other factors to take into account even before the cost, flight times being one of the most important.
For me, it is far easier for us to fly during the daytime, preferably not boarding or taking off at a time when we would usually be feeding William. That is because it is hard enough to feed William anyway, without throwing a boarding lounge, seat-belts, turbulence and popping ears into the mix! You may have a different take on this but I would certainly consider your flight times and how they will impact on your child and the routines you have established.
The choice of airline is also very important, and not simply because of the destination, you wish to fly to. Some airlines can provide you with special seating supports, extra baggage or other things which may make your flight easier. You may wish to fly with an airline with a really great special assistance team (like Virgin Atlantic) who are at the end of the phone if you have a query or you might want to choose your airline because they have been recommended to you.
Think about the things that you need from an airline and then ask them if they can provide that to you before you book with them. I have had great experiences when flying long haul with Virgin Atlantic as their special assistance teams are really helpful and on the ball and we always fly short haul with Easyjet.
Once you have booked your flight it is important to speak to your airline to ensure you get the assistance you need before you arrive at the airport, I would suggest it is the very first thing you do after you book your flight/holiday, that way it is done and you can focus on getting everything else ready.
Under European law airports in the countries of the European Union must provide assistance to help you:
Get from your point of arrival at the airport you are flying from to the Bag Drop (this could be from the car park, train station, drop-off point, etc.) go through customs and security to the boarding gate
Get on board the plane and into your seat
Stow your cabin baggage in the overhead locker
Get off the plane after landing
Retrieve your baggage and any mobility equipment
Bring you to the point at which you leave the airport (eg car park, car rental, coach park, train station)
The type of assistance you require will, of course, vary depending on you, and your child’s, needs and it could be anything from providing a wheelchair to escorting you through security away from noisy queues. Some airports now offer lanyards or badges to help staff to recognise invisible disabilities so this might be something you would find helpful.
Make sure the airline fully understands your needs and that they are noted on your booking. Some budget airlines can be difficult to get hold of on the telephone so if needs be I would suggest you turn to Twitter (see next tip)
Twitter is the most public form of social media so most businesses invest the most in their social media team to ensure they are the most helpful people in their team! This applies to airlines and holiday companies too! That means if I need to organise anything to ensure my holiday runs smoothly, the Twitter team will usually be my first port of call for help, not least because it will then be recorded in writing should you need to refer to it again. I tend to take screen shots of my Twitter conversations so I have them available even if there is no internet connection.
If you don’t usually tweet then I’d suggest you set up a Twitter account purely for the purpose of your trip as any issues you come across while you are away can always be sorted pretty quickly and painlessly without the need for expensive phone calls when you are overseas.
In the past, I found one airline could only help me once I had contacted their Twitter team, thanks to them we were able to book seats together on our flights and ensure we had the assistance we needed when their call centre staff couldn’t help us. Follow me on Twitter if you want some help with this
If you are flying with a disabled child who usually gets hoisted at home then you can pre-book the Eagle passenger lift to help you to get them onboard the plane and into their seat without the need for manual lifting. You can read more about this equipment here.
Sadly, you may find it is not yet available at your destination airport, you can check here to see if it is available at the airports you are flying from/to. If airlines see it being used on their aircraft in the UK they will start to put pressure on their destination airports to provide it for their passengers there.
You MUST pre-book the Eagle Passenger Lifter and this can be organized directly with the airport, but it is essential your airline is aware of your need for this equipment and book the right seats for you as the Eagle can only access certain seats on the aircraft! If you are unsure how to contact your airport or need seating information if your airline can’t help you then please ask, me or Eagle Passenger Lifters direct
The usual limits on carrying liquids in your hand luggage don’t apply to essential medications and you are usually allowed to carry these with you so long as they have pharmacy labels on with the same name as the passenger. NEVER pack your medications in your suitcase just in case it fails to arrive at your destination.
Instead bring it along in a separate carry-on bag, most airlines will allow this as it is essential medications but do check with your airline first. I usually carry ours in a small cool bag along with Williams food.
Some people worry about changing the time they administer medications because of time differences when travelling. Of course, if you’re sticking with Europe then this isn’t going to be an issue but if you are travelling further afield then you might want to discuss it with your pediatrician or GP. When we visit my family in Florida we face a 5 hour time difference but we were advised to continue with a morning and evening dose even with the time difference and that has always worked for us. Do check with your doctor as it will depend on your child’s condition and the medications they are taking. But don’t let this put you off travelling!
I hope you’ve found these tips useful, and I have convinced you that flying with a disabled child is possible! You’ll find more ideas in part two of this series.
Please share your top tips for air travel below, I know they’ll be useful for other readers.