If you’re planning a big trip to Rio for the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year, we’ve got all of the information you’ll need about disabled travel. From finding out what help you’re entitled to at the airport, to tips on choosing the right travel insurance: we’ve got a full list of the most popular airlines’ mobility assistance policies, plus travel tips from the experts to help you plan your summer holidays.
It’s not long now until Rio 2016. You’ve got your ticket, but how else do you stay ahead of the games? With the FCO’s Games checklist of course! And with our handy guide from the disabled access experts, Euan’s Guide.
We’ve listed answers to some of the more popular questions here, but if you have any more then feel free to leave them in the comment box below.
Do I need to contact the airline before I fly? Why?
As a disabled person, who may have additional requirements, we advise you to contact the airline directly. This way you can discuss a whole range of specific requirements, from accessing the aircraft as a wheelchair user, to arranging inflight meals that meet dietary requirements as a diabetic. Most airlines have a specialist assistance department; they’ll manage your journey from your drop off at the departure airport, your baggage through all the connections, right the way to your arrival at your destination airport. Find all of the airline and travel agents’ contact details here.
What type of travel insurance should I get?
As for all travellers, travel insurance is a must. However, if you have a medical condition or impairment that could require attention while you’re away, then you should take out appropriate specialist insurance to cover all eventualities, whether it be hospitalisation in a foreign country or transport back home. You should declare any pre-existing medical conditions to your insurance provider. Similarly, the FCO also advises that you select travel insurance that covers you for everything you plan to do during your time in Rio.
Do I need a letter from my doctor?
The airline may require you to get a medical certificate to certify that you are fit to fly, in which case you won’t be allowed to board without this. The captain of the aircraft will have the final say however, even after you present your certification. You can speak to the specialist assistance team of your airline to discuss any medication or specialist equipment you may be travelling with.
If you do currently take medication, make sure you travel with enough for the duration of your trip. You should also take the time to check whether your medication is legal in the countries you intend to travel through. – Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Should I book with a specialised travel agent or package holiday company?
If you want to avoid the hassle of thinking about all of the things you need to cover and would like the process managed, then go with a specialist company. They will be aware of the pitfalls that are not easy to find. Typical package holiday companies will only focus on getting you to your destination in one piece, and the rest is often up to you where disabled access is concerned. They are unlikely to have covered the finer details and there is a bit less reassurance that all will go smoothly; unlike specialised travel agents who are usually more experienced disabled travellers who have tried and tested the itineraries they offer. Specialised travel companies take the stress out of travelling, but booking with one will likely come at a premium price. Nevertheless, it is a preferred option for many people. It’s not fun to be stressed on holiday!
What assistance should I expect at the airport?
In essence, what you ask for is what you’ll get. If you’re visually impaired you might expect help with navigation, and a top tip is to have easily identifiable luggage which you can describe to the assistance team member who is collecting it for you. Wheelchair users on the other hand can expect assistance onto the aircraft, among other things. This will involve transfer from their own chair to an airline chair for boarding purposes. This experience can vary, however, and different airlines will have different ways of doing it: some might offer level access onto the aircraft, or you might be directed to a lift. In some situations, you may be physically assisted into the plane. At more progressive airports, you may encounter an Eagle Lifter which can smoothly transfer you from your wheelchair directly into your seat on board.
Is my wheelchair counted in my baggage allowance?
No it’s not, because it’s considered a medical device and you can take medical devices onboard – airlines are obliged to take them.
Can I stay in my wheelchair on the plane?
No. As it stands the majority of aircrafts require you to transfer to a seat and assistance staff or crew will help you to do that (see above). That said, there are some domestic airlines in America now that are testing the idea of wheeling your wheelchair on board and potentially staying in your chair for the duration of your flight, so watch this space!
What about other equipment, such as portable machines, batteries, respirators or oxygen? Can I take these on board?
If it’s equipment you require for medical purposes, then you may take it on board. It may have to be specially cleared and given permission, but this is why it’s so important to have the conversation with the specialist assistance team at the beginning! Always list what you will be bringing, such as back-up batteries.
Am I allowed to travel with guide dogs, or other assistance animals on a plane?
Guide dogs yes, assistance dogs yes – as long as they are registered assistance dogs. If you plan on taking a more unusual assistance animal, such as a pigs or a turkey, which you might have read about some travellers doing in the news, then you will definitely have to speak to the airline beforehand.
What happens if I need to go to the toilet during the flight? Are all toilets on airplanes wheelchair-accessible?
They are wheelchair accessible toilets designed for the onboard transit chair. If you do not want to go in your wheelchair then you are allowed to take the person travelling with you in for assistance, although the rules vary so it’s best to speak to the airline you are travelling with directly about this.
What happens if my luggage or wheelchair are damaged during the flight?
You must refer to the company policy for damage or loss in transit – but you should also have your own travel insurance to cover this just in case. Another tip is to take photographs of your chair from all angles so that you have a record of what it looked like before you boarded.
How do I find out if my destination is accessible?
Take a look at Euan’s Guide! If the region has not yet been covered by us then check the local tourist office. Additionally, find out if there is a local disability group. They will be able to give you information about where to stay and tourist places to visit. As for local transport, again check the local tourist office. There may be downloadable information or tickets that you can use.
Any tips for finding accommodation? What things should I look out for?
Speak to the local tourist office, but also check to see if anyone else has been before and written about it. If you can find somebody that has been in a similar situation, then it helps.
Can I drive a car whilst on holiday?
It’s the same answer as it would be for anyone else. Check driving ages and regulations first. Then search for a hire company that can offer wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) or automatic cars with hand controls.
For more information visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Stay Ahead of the Games page, including this video, featuring Olympic gold medalist Tim Brabants, Paralympic judoka Ben Quilter, five-time Paralympic gold medalist Sophie Christiansen and Olympic hopeful Amber Hill:
For more information about disabled travel, read more from Euan’s Guide.
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