Many of us get to the airport relieved that we have arrived safely. We loaded our suitcases; locked up the house; parked our car in our designated airport car park, and remembered our passports!
For some though, around 22% of the population, travelling can be a difficult, even frightening, experience. The airport is viewed with trepidation and boarding a flight can be extremely stressful. For customers, and their families, with hidden disabilities such as Autism or Dementia, unfamiliarity and excess noise can prove very distressing.
Thankfully many airports in the UK and around the globe are waking up to the needs of these passengers. For physically disabled persons there has for some time now been help available in the form of transportation around the airport. This is now being extended to passengers with other challenges.
Airport Assistance for People with Autism, Dementia or Anxiety
A ‘hidden disability lanyard’ is now being provided by many of our airports to identify passengers who may require additional support and understanding. They do not necessarily require specific help, but these airports have specially trained staff to deal with problems, if and when they arise.
Airport Assistance for People with Physical Disabilities
For those customers arriving at the airport in a wheelchair or mobility scooter there is usually a very efficient service in place. Customers may use their appliances prior to checking in, after which time they will be provided with a wheelchair or transportation to the aircraft, depending on their specific needs. The airport must be advised of these requirements at least 48 hours before arrival, to avoid unnecessary delays. Individual needs will be taken into account and help will be provided for numerous requirements.
Airline Policy on Assistance Dogs
The Civil Aviation Authority states that all airlines must allow assistance dogs on board with their owners, free of charge. There are certain stipulations to be aware of:
- Owners must inform the airline in advance of travel
- If a dog is too big to go on the floor in front of the owner, then an extra ticket may need to be purchased
- Owners must supply a harness, food and a blanket for the dog to lie on
- The airline may ask if the dog is suitably trained for air travel with a certificate from an authorised trainer as proof
- Some airlines won’t carry certain breeds of dog at all (for example pit bull terriers, mastiffs etc)
Assistance dogs need to comply with the UK Government Pet Travel Scheme. For more information, visit the gov.uk website.
Emotional Support Animals on Planes
Current legislation in the UK will only accept dogs as emotional support animals, although not all airlines recognise this. For example, Thomas Cook and British Airways won’t allow you to carry them on board with you. However, Virgin, Ryanair and easyJet will allow emotional support dogs on the plane, so it may be worth checking this prior to booking your flight. Of course, all dogs must comply with the UK Government Pet Travel Scheme.
Finally, new schemes are being rolled out by some airlines to ensure that the impact of a flight for customers with ‘hidden disabilities’ is as stress free as possible. Virgin Atlantic has a dedicated special assistance team in place to help with the needs of these customers, from the initial check-in right through the duration of the flight.