When making your flight reservation always remember to notify your airline, travel agent or tour operator if you require assistance. The airline needs to be notified no later than 48 hours in advance of travel.
To ensure you receive the correct assistance at your airport, familiarise yourself with the following 4 letter codes that airlines use when communicating your requirements to airports, and request the appropriate code when making your flight reservation. WCHR (for passengers who require a wheelchair to the aircraft, but can walk short distances, including steps), WCHS (for passengers who require a wheelchair to the aircraft, but cannot climb steps), WCHC (for passengers who require full assistance, which includes being assisted into their aircraft seat).
Upon arrival at the airport there are a number of help points available to you, which can be found in the car parks, railway or bus stations (if applicable) and at terminal entrances. The legislation ensures that airports provide assistance to you from any of these points if required. Otherwise make your way directly to your airline check-in desk and once you have checked in, you should then make yourself known to the special assistance desk to confirm how you would like to be assisted to the aircraft.
Many of the larger airports operate with air-bridges enabling passengers to access the aircraft directly without ascending steps. But when this is not possible, for passengers who require assistance into their aircraft seat or cannot climb steps, then most airports utilise ambulifts, which are vehicles that can be driven to the aircraft and then raised up to the aircraft door to enable reduced mobility passengers to enter the aircraft.
If required, an aisle chair – a small narrow chair on wheels – can be utilised to gain access to your aircraft seat. This same chair can be used to enable a passenger to gain access to the on-board toilet. However please be aware that the cabin crew whilst able to wheel you to the toilet, are not encouraged to lift passengers and obviously cannot assist within the toilet. It is also important to understand that passengers with reduced mobility cannot sit in seats where you may obstruct access to emergency evacuation.
You can take up to 2 items of mobility equipment with you as well as your chair, which could include a shower chair and a hoist for example. If you are taking a powered wheelchair with you, the airline will ask whether it is dry or wet cell battery operated, as well as the approximate weight. On some occasions you may also be asked for the dimensions of your chair, which you should be able to find in your manual. It is advisable to photocopy the appropriate page from your manual that highlights how to disengage the batteries and attach it to the back of your chair for the benefit of the airport and airline staff. This will reduce the chances of airport staff disconnecting various wires from your battery, and ensure that the wheelchair does not switch on during the flight. If you do not have a copy of your manual to hand you can refer to the following website which lists most power chairs and also provides information on how to immobilise your chair during a flight. One particular gadget that is often referred to and is able to immobilise most power chairs, is the airsafe-plug, and further details can be found here.
Whilst arguably still one of the most stressful elements to any package holiday for a disabled passenger is the flight, as a result of European legislation and a genuine desire by most airlines and airports to want to improve the customer experience for ALL their passengers, this ordeal is becoming easier.