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Article 02 October

Essential guide to navigating airline disability guidelines

Finding airline regulations can be difficult, especially if you need assistance. Olivia Haughton sets out a handy guide to the major airlines to help you on your way

Travelling can be a challenge at the best of times and if you have trouble getting around or difficulty seeing and hearing then things are even more complicated. Many airlines don't make it easier by burying assistance guidelines and policies deep within their websites, so we've dug around on the sites of some of the world's major carriers and come up with a few tips you might find helpful.

Each airline does things slightly differently but there are a few common factors that are helpful to know.

Before boarding, travellers with mobility difficulties will often be offered the option of an airport wheelchair and escort, although this escort can't supervise or watch the passenger the whole time. It won't always be possible to keep your own wheelchair up to the gate, especially on the smaller or budget airlines.

Often an escort can be provided even if a wheelchair isn't needed. A firm request might be needed to make it happen though. Guide dogs are always welcome to fly, providing the paperwork is completed and they are able to sit at your feet for the duration of the journey.

Most of the larger carriers will provide on board wheelchairs designed to fit easily down the aisles. Staff use these to help disabled passengers get to and from their seat and to the door of the toilet (which may or may not be designed accessibly – see below for more information). However, staff can't help beyond the toilet door, nor are able to lift or carry anyone.

Airline attendants are usually happy to give assistance opening flight meals and pointing out what is on the tray and where. They are not permitted to help feed anyone; however, Air Canada is alone in stating that they offer the possibility of cutting food up, if required.

If assistance is needed in the toilet, with eating meals, any medical procedures or following instructions in an evacuation then a personal assistant will be required to travel too.

Well that's the general gist, here are some specifics to help you plan your trip.