When it comes to travelling with a chronic illness or disability, it can be difficult to know where to start. From airport assistance to navigating your way through a new destination comfortably, you want to ensure you’re putting your safety first.
To help those that may be feeling a little nervous, my good friend Georgina Grogan has shared her top tips for using airport assistance.
First of all, can you give a brief description of airline assistance for those that may not have heard of it before?
Airport/airline/Special Assistance is for passengers who are disabled or have reduced mobility. You’re legally entitled to support from the airport to make travelling as easy as stress-free as possible. It’s completely free of charge, must be booked at least 48 hours prior to travelling and the level of support changes depending on what you need, it isn’t one size fits all and is tailored to you. If you just need to borrow a wheelchair to get through the airport then you can do that and if you need transferring from your chair into your aeroplane seat, then that help will be provided. There is also a lanyard system, which you can pick up on the day without booking, in place for people who don’t need as much assistance but who would benefit from getting through the queues faster and staff will be extra helpful.
Who is it designed for?
Anyone who is disabled or has limited mobility. You do not have to ‘prove’ you’re disabled and there are no questions asked.
What does getting airport assistance mean to you?
Airport assistance means I can actually board and arrive at my destination without feeling like I need to go to bed for 3 weeks because of the pain. For 2/4 of my holidays since becoming ill, I did not use assistance and it ruined my holiday and made the airport a nightmare experience. If airport assistance didn’t exist, I actually would not go on holiday ever again. That’s how much it means to me. It’s the difference between actually wanting and feeling confident enough to travel.
What are the benefits?
Depending on your condition it can drastically reduce your pain and fatigue. Airports are huge, the waiting times are long, the queues are long and all of this with a body that is unwell and/or in pain ruins what should be a good experience.
Do you have to sign up in advance, or do you speak to someone once you arrive at the airport?
You simply check a box when booking your plane tickets and then you can speak to the airport assistance team too to give them more information as needed. If you’re pretty straight forward (want to borrow a chair and have a family member push) usually the information you give when booking is enough, if you, however, are taking your own power chair then it’s best to get in touch so they have more information on that. I took my transit chair last year and had no problems at all, next year I’ll be taking my powerchair. Once you arrive at the airport, the airport assistance desk should be close to the entrance. You simply give them your name and depending on the assistance you’d need you’d either wait for someone to come take you through security and check-in, or you would take the chair and go through yourself.
If you do have to speak to someone at the airport, where would you find them?
There are marked desks for airport assistance and any member of staff should be able to point them out too. They should be extremely easy to find and see.
Is there a specific spot you need to go to once you arrive?
Usually just inside the entrance.
Can you run us through a typical step-by-step process of arriving at the airport, going through security and boarding your plane using airport assistance?
This year we arrived and went straight to the airport assistance to collect a wheelchair for my mum to use. I had my transit chair with me so afterwards we were fine to check-in. My chair gets a special tag for luggage and we head for security. We go through a faster queue at security and get more help from the staff. We are swabbed and patted down in our chairs, despite me offering to go through the scanner. They really don’t want to cause you any unnecessary pain. Then we go through the airport at our own speed, stopping and shopping where we want. When we head to the gate the wheelchair assistance team take over from my dad and boyfriend pushing us and take us all down to the aircraft via the lift. The rest of the passengers have to use the stairs. We then get pushed onto the special assistance ambi-lift which takes us to the plane and lifts us level with the other plane door. Either before or after everyone has finished entering, we are let in and shown to our seats. We leave our wheelchairs in the ambi-lift, mine is to be put under the plane as luggage, and mum’s borrowed chair is to go help someone else. I usually book seats at the back of the plane so we’re right where we need to be when entering.
Are there any negatives to using airport assistance?
I personally think taking your own chair is so much easier. There’s no risk of only smaller chairs than you need being available, there’s no risk of the chair you get being really uncomfortable which can cause more pain either. Obviously things can go wrong, if you’re travelling alone you might be waiting on the Special Assistance staff for a long time to transfer you to different places. If you take a wheelchair there is a risk of damage, for my transit chair I wasn’t too worried. I took the pillow off and put it in my case and just before I left my chair, I took the legs off and carried them on board in a canvas bag instead. There were the easiest things that could break off my chair so it gave me peace of mind and the Special Assistance staff did not mind at all. When I take my power chair next year it will have to be marked up properly with instructions on how to use it and fold it. It’ll probably need a few things on it protecting too, I haven’t thought too much into it yet as I don’t want to get stressed out about a holiday that isn’t even booked.
Finally, do you have any tips you would give to someone looking to use airport assistance?
I cannot say this enough but definitely, definitely book it. You do not have to be registered disabled, your pain, condition, fatigue is completely valid. It is there for you to start your holiday off without unnecessary stress, so please don’t let the thought of someone else needing it more or you can manage if you take it easily, put you off. There is enough staff, airports are equipped, everyone who needs help can get it, we just have to book it and use it!
About Georgina Grogan
Georgina Grogan is multi-award-winning disabled plus size fashion & beauty blogger, mother of cats and queen of incredible makeup. You can find her blog and social media here: