Candy Harrington has been writing about accessible travel for nearly two decades. Her books, newsletter (Emerging Horizons) and blog are excellent resources, offering information and encouragement to wheelchair-users, slow walkers, and those who travel with them.
(Click here for my review of one of her recent books, “22 Accessible Road Trips.”)
Last month Candy was the guest speaker for the National MS Society, Northern California Chapter MS Lecture Series in Sacramento. Her topic was “Have MS, Will (Still) Travel: Tips for Traveling with MS.”
The meeting was well-attended, affirming that a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis does not diminish the desire to travel. Candy spent over an hour sharing very helpful accessible travel tips, and I took many notes.
Her #1 tip: Know your rights so you know what to expect; become familiar with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
~ You are entitled to curbside wheelchair assistance at the airport.
The reality is that sometimes assistance (wheelchair and/or helper) is not there or not available. Make sure to have the local number for the airline at hand so you can call for assistance.
And if that doesn’t resolve the problem, tweet about it. Airlines have social media staff monitoring [Twitter] hashtags about their company, and they are very likely to see the tweet and do something about it right away.
(Example: “No #curbside #wheelchair available at #InsertAirlineNameHere #SMF #distressed #passenger”)
~ If a Safety Assistant is required, the disabled passenger can ask another passenger to act in that capacity. There is no requirement that the “Safety Assistant” be someone who paid to travel with you.
~ Level boarding is required for aircraft with 19+ seats.
~ You have the right to preboard.
While you may have arrived early enough to have a meal or do some airport shopping, try to stay near the boarding gate so airline personnel doesn’t forget / overlook you for preboarding.
For instance, if you need a flip-up arm lift for seating and your assigned seat does not have it, you can be reseated. This is more easily accomplished if you’re the first one on board.
(While planning your trip, SeatGuru is a great resource for choosing a seat that meets your needs – near the restroom, near the cabin door, etc.)
~ You have the right to store your manual wheelchair on aircraft. (i.e., strapped down behind the last row of seats).
Tip: This space is quickly used, so preboarding makes it more likely you’ll get it.
(Because Carrieanna’s wheelchair is foldable, we use a luggage strap to keep it tightly folded. This somewhat reduces the possibility of damage in handling / storage.)
Some other points:
~ If your assistive device is lost or damaged, the airline is responsible for replacement cost. (The assistive device might be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy; it might also be a good idea to obtain travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions. Your Special Needs Certified travel agent will be able to help you with this.)
~ If you have flight- or accessibility-related problems at the airport, the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO) must be available to resolve them.
~ Did you know that TSA is not required to follow ADA laws? They have their own set of rules; you can read them here. However, if you have any problems – being asked to move in a way you cannot, etc. – ask for the Passenger Support Specialist, which is TSA’s corollary to CRO.
Candy also had a few good tips to help forestall fatigue, a very challenging MS symptom, exacerbated by travel:
~ Get to the airport early; rushing is stressful and stress increases fatigue.
~ Allow ample time between connecting flights. (She recommends 90 minutes.)
~ If possible, avoid flying on Mondays and Fridays, and avoid early-morning flights (generally filled with business people) and the last flight of the day (which may get cancelled and then you’re stuck).
(And as Carrieanna has found, wheeling in airports can be fun!)
Watch for a future post with Candy’s tips about traveling by car, cruising, and things to watch for when seeking accessible lodging.
For more in-depth information, order a copy of “Barrier-Free Travel – A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers.”
“Billed as the definitive guide to accessible travel, this indispensable resource contains detailed information about the logistics of planning accessible travel by plane, train, bus and ship. The third edition features information on the recently updated air travel laws, updated resources, a new shore excursion chapter and extended ground transportation resources.”
“A great resource for wheelchair or scooter-users, slow walkers [and] travel agents ….”