The modern marvel of flying makes it possible for us to reach destinations that in a matter of hours. You might dream of seeing faraway places or visiting loved ones. Although you might be afraid to fly because of a disability, health condition, or even your age. 

These variables might make flying more difficult but not impossible. You can practice the advice from this flying guide to build confidence and gradually plan longer trips.

Each of us has different travel challenges. Simply find the travel topic that’s most relevant to you to start planning your trip.

Table of Contents

Physical Disabilities

Traveling within the United States is more disability-friendly than in other countries thanks to federal legislation including the American Disability Act. 

In particular, you should become familiar with the different provisions in the Air Carrier Access Act that govern air travel. 

Here are some of the regulations that airlines must follow with new aircraft:

  • Aircraft with 30 or more seats must have movable armrests on at least half of the aisle seats. 
  • Twin-aisle aircraft must have accessible lavatories.
  • Airlines must accept battery-operated wheelchairs.
  • FAA-approved Portable Oxygen Concentrators use is permitted during flights.

Airlines can also offer gate-side assistants to help you board and exit a plane. 

Service and Support Animals

You can have service animals or emotional support animals accompany you during your flight. Both types of animals can be a huge help and comfort. Airlines typically require some documentation to verify you have a service or support animal instead of a carry-on pet. 

Your service animal gets to fly for free in most instances.

Review their requirements and contact the airline at least 48 hours ahead to notify you will have an animal accompanying you. The agent will verify that your seat and flights are animal-compliant. 

Even after checking in, the airline can still refuse your animal from boarding if they demonstrate these behaviors:

  • Growling
  • Jumping on passengers
  • Excessive barking
  • Urinating or defecating in the boarding area

Contact the airline at least 48 hours in advance if you are traveling with a service animal, emotional support animal, or need extra assistance. Ideally, contact the airline in the booking process to verify your desired flights can accommodate your travel needs. 

Each airline should also have a special travel needs section on their website. This can be your best 24/7 reference for airline-specific assistance.

Get a Doctor’s Note

Having a doctor’s note for your medical condition or current prescriptions can avoid unnecessary delay when going through airport security or boarding the plane. 

This note can explain any potential symptoms or effects. Having the note can also be helpful if you have a medical emergency while traveling. The airline staff or first responders can have a better idea of how to respond. 

Filing Disability-Related Travel Complaints

If you feel the airline is discriminating against you because of your disability and not observing current DOT regulations, you have several options to report your complaint. 

First, try speaking with the airline’s Complaint Resolution Official (CRO). Gate agents and airline staff may not be familiar with every regulation. The CRO can be your quickest option to resolve the issue.

If speaking to the airline representative doesn’t work, you can always contact the DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division Hotline. Their contact number is 1-800-778-4838 during normal weekday business hours when the federal government is open.

Additional Travel Tips

  • Arrive at the airport early to allow extra time to travel to gate
  • Book connecting flights with longer layovers
  • Bring relevant medical documentation
  • Try bringing a travel companion for extra help

 

It may take you longer to pass through security or arrive at your gate. This can be because you have to wait for airline assistance to help you.

If you can’t book a direct flight, longer layovers give you additional time to reach your next gate. And you might appreciate the extra time in between plane rides to stretch your legs and arms. 

Flying with Wheelchairs

If traveling with a wheelchair, notify the airline at least 48 hours in advance to ensure they have staff to assist. You can request the airline to furnish a wheelchair and assistance to board and deplane.

Airlines also let you bring your own manual or power wheelchair. Airplanes have storage for at least one adult wheelchair. With battery-operated wheelchairs, make sure you take precautions to protect your battery during transport. Doing so can minimize travel delay.

In addition to notifying the airline at least 48 hours in advance (some airlines require 72 hours on select flights), remind the counter agent at check-in if you need assistance.

Avoiding Damage

Airlines make a good faith effort to protect your wheelchair during transit. Accidents still happen and even if the airline compensates you for any damage they are liable for, your mobility can be temporarily hindered.

  • Attach handling instructions for baggage handlers and gate agents to follow
  • Protective sleeves
  • Remove any loose items like seat cushions
  • Disassembly tools (if required)

Passing Through TSA Security

You may experience some delay getting through security. This is why it’s a good idea to arrive at least 90 minutes before departure. This extra time gives you a cushion to get through airport security and also to get to your gate once you pass the security checkpoint.

TSA currently doesn’t require you to get out of your wheelchair. Although you may be subject to a patdown or private screening. 

If you have difficulty lifting an arm or leg, notify the TSA agent when passing through security. Having proper medical documentation can help expedite the screening process as well.

Elderly Travel

Airlines offer terminal and gateside assistance to senior travelers. If you don’t want to rely on an airline agent, try traveling with another family member. In addition to carrying your luggage, you can have them be responsible for these items:

  • Boarding pass
  • Medication
  • Special travel equipment

Contact the Airline When Booking

When booking, call the airline and look for special travel assistance option when reserving your seat online. Requesting special services when getting your seat lets the airline make plans for your travel day needs. It’s still a good idea to arrive at the airport early and remind the check-in agent about your travel requests. 

Airlines also offer discounts to passengers at least 65 years or older. If the discount doesn’t automatically populate, make sure to ask the airline agent before paying for your ticket.

Expedited TSA Security Lines

Passengers 75 years or older can enjoy some expedited airport security privileges. When going through the TSA checkpoint, these passengers do not need to remove their shoes and can walk through with a light jacket.

Autism

Autism is a rising trend in our society but it isn’t a reason to stay home. Taking proper steps before and while you travel can make for a pleasant flight.

  • Bring along favorite toys or comfort food
  • Pack a travel-sized weighted blanket
  • Ask the airline if they have resources
  • Show pictures of an airplane or airport before traveling
  • Allow longer-than-usual layovers to rest between flights
  • Book short, direct flights when possible
  • Avoid busy travel days

If this is the autistic traveler’s first flight, describing the process may make them more comfortable with being on a plane or busy terminal. 

Each traveler will handle flying differently because we all have unique personalities. This can be learning through trial and error to a certain extent. 

A good way to master flying with an autistic traveler is by booking short flights that are up to three hours at most to see how your child does. These short flights will help them become more comfortable on longer flights and help parents know what to do to help the child remain calm.

Pregnancy

Airlines will let you fly while pregnant up to four weeks (36 weeks) before your official due date. Although some European airlines begin implementing restrictions at 26 weeks. 

On the bright side, at least you can still fly. Cruise lines won’t allow women at least 24 weeks pregnant.

Each airline will require physician’s medical approval stating you have been recently examined and are fit to fly. This medical note will most likely need to be dated within 36 hours before departure. The estimated birth date must also be at after your final flight for that itinerary. 

New mothers may also need medical permission when flying within one week of giving birth.

Each airline has similar yet unique guidelines when traveling while pregnant or with a newborn baby. Review the guidelines several days before flying to see if you or your physician must provide any specific paperwork. 

Even if you are not required to furnish a note, it can still be a good idea to have a medical checkup before flying. Your doctor may give you a note just in case the gate agent or security personnel have questions. Bringing your prenatal records is also a smart move.

Special Assistance

Travel days can require more walking than usual and cause unhealthy swelling or dehydration. 

You can contact the airline at least 48 hours before departure to request special assistance. For instance, the airline staff can provide a wheelchair or transportation through the terminal.

Travel in Comfort

Flying when pregnant can be more uncomfortable than usual. After all, you’re body is making constantly making room for a growing baby. Consider bringing some of the following items along to help make the flight more pleasant:

  • Coccyx pillow
  • Compression socks
  • Wedge pillows

You should also bring healthy snacks and a collapsible water to avoid hunger and thirst.

 

Trying to only fly in planes with pressurized cabins (not the small prop planes) can also keep you more comfortable. Short flights can also be better as you won’t be sitting in one place as long.

When Not to Fly When Pregnant

Deciding not to fly when pregnant can be a judgment call. Obviously, you shouldn’t disobey doctor restrictions (if it comes to that). You might also avoid flying if you currently have morning sickness or cannot sit for long periods of time.

Your medical history may also discourage you from flying if you have experienced some of these issues below. Keep in mind the following is a partial list:

  • Cervical issues
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • History of miscarriage or premature labor
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Preeclampsia
  • At least 35 years old

Blindness

Airlines offer vision assistance including wheelchair and arm assistance. The airline will also provide directions when booking flights online or if you need help navigating the airport terminal.

Blindness is also a permissible reason to have a service dog.

Deafness

You can also get hearing assistance at the airport or during the booking process. Let the ticket counter agent or gate agent know you are deaf and may need assistance. For instance, you can read captions during the safety video.

It’s also a good idea to stay near your departure gate and scan the TV screen for any potential updates like delays or gate changes. Getting carrier text message alerts can also be effective if you want to walk the terminal or grab lunch.

Once onboard, you might try telling the flight crew about your condition. This way, they can notify you of any important updates the pilot might broadcast on the speaker system. 

Summary

Flying isn’t only for the young and physically fit. Giving the airline advance notice before flying and arriving early can make for a pleasant trip. Also don’t be afraid to contact the airline to verify they can accommodate your needs and to answer any questions you have before packing your bags. 

 

Johnny Jet Editorial

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