The modern marvels of flying and makes it possible for us to reach destinations in a matter of hours. You might dream of seeing faraway places or visiting loved ones. Although you might be afraid to fly or drive too far because of a disability, health condition, or even your age.
These variables might make long trips more difficult but not impossible. You can practice the advice from this 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
- Service and Support Animals
- Flying With Wheelchairs
- Elderly Travel
- Planning a Wheelchair Accessible Road Trip
- Renting Wheelchair-Friendly Vehicles
- Planning Accessible Routes
- Making Advance Reservations
- Disability Car Insurance
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:
- 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.
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.
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
- 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 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.
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.
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
- At least 35 years old
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.
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 of Flying
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.
Embarking on a road trip with a disability may come with a different set of challenges than flying. Road trips give you more flexibility as you can set your own travel pace and make tailored travel plans.
Planning a Wheelchair Accessible Road Trip
If you’re traveling with a wheelchair, you won’t be able to travel in small rental cars and visit certain attractions. Here are a few tips to help you make a successful travel plan.
Rent a Wheelchair-Friendly Vehicle
You might decide to use a larger and more comfortable vehicle than what you normally use for local errands. Renting an SUV or a minivan is one option as you have more legroom and ample cargo space to squeeze in everything on your road trip packing list.
One advantage of renting an SUV or minivan is these common vehicle types qualify for most credit card rental car insurance benefits. Not paying for add-on collision damage waiver coverage from the rental agency keeps your travel costs lower.
Another option is renting an RV from an online booking site like RVshare. A Class C or Class A motorhome can be your best option. Modified RVs may also be available for rent. Credit card car rental insurance benefits don’t cover RV rentals. You will need to buy rental insurance from the agency or your auto insurance provider.
Before renting a vehicle or RV, make sure you can bring a service dog if you have one.
Plan a Custom Route
The Internet makes it easy to find disability-friendly activities and hotels. Analyze websites of potential stops to see what’s open and their accessibility options.
In addition to scouring TripAdvisor reviews and tourism websites, consider joining AAA. A travel agent can plan your “TripTik” and find exclusive AAA travel discounts. The personalized service can reduce your personal research time if you have minimal free time.
The National Park Service lists accessibility information for each park. Dogs that are official service animals are allowed into National Parks. US citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities can get a free Access Pass. Your only cost is a one-time $10 processing fee.
Make Advance Reservations
Try to make advance reservations to have the most travel options. With current coronavirus travel restrictions, most tourist activities require advance reservations.
Many hotels have wheelchair-accessible rooms and “guaranteed ADA rooms” but availability can be limited. You can book these rooms online. Another option is calling the hotel front desk to make a special request. Directly calling the hotel can be good to verify the room layout, parking situation and any other special accommodations you may need.
Calling ahead for tourist activities makes sense to verify you can do the planned activity. Tourism attractions are happy to meet you but may need at least 48 hours advance notice to prepare for your visit.
Some tourist websites can also be vague about what’s accessible and what’s not. You do not want to drive a long way only to find out you cannot participate. Calling lets you answer specific questions so you plan your route with minimal stress.
Disability Car Insurance
If you’re traveling in a modified vehicle that you own, you may need special car insurance. At a minimum, you must carry your state’s minimum liability coverage for at-fault incidents.
“Comprehensive coverage” is necessary to cover your car’s equipment modifications. Each insurance company can have widely different coverage limitations. It’s best to compare policy quotes (and call an agent if necessary) for specific items, including:
- Amputee rings
- Automatic doors
- Hand controls and other steering devices
- Pedal and seat belt extenders
- Wheelchair ramps
Is Car Insurance Cheaper for Disabled?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally prohibits car insurance providers from charging higher premiums to disabled drivers. Your premiums for liability and comprehensive insurance should be the same as non-impaired drivers.
You can file an ADA complaint if you believe there is sufficient evidence of discrimination.
However, premiums can vary widely between insurance providers. It’s wise to get multiple quotes whether you have a disability or not.
Disability car insurance can be pricier if you purchase add-on coverage options. Examples include:
- Adaptation coverage: Covers damages to your vehicle modifications
- Equipment protection: Reimburses damages to your non-vehicle equipment such as wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, or walking aids.
- Mobility car insurance coverage: Covers modified vehicle rental costs when your insured vehicle is under repair after an incident.
Discounts for Disabled Drivers and Passengers
It’s possible to get discounts to reduce your car insurance costs.
These are some of your options:
- Loyalty program discounts
- Multi-policy discounts with the same insurance company
- Telematics (a wireless device monitors your driving habits and total miles are driven)
- Senior citizen discount
If you don’t drive, you can also exclude yourself from a policy. Your premium might be less if your a disabled passenger and only non-disabled driver operate your vehicle.
In addition to car insurance discounts, some attractions offer disability discounts. Contact the merchant to find the details and secure your travel discounts.