Traveling today can be a hassle – at the best of times. We all know the issues: airport delays, long security lines, checked baggage (and other hidden) fees, cramped airplanes, overpriced “convenient” snacks onboard and the ever-popular screaming child kicking the back of your seat.
Those difficulties can be compounded when you travel with someone else – whether it is for business or leisure travel. Will you like the same things? Can you coordinate schedules? Will you be compatible while dealing with the usual inconveniences of travel?
What if you compound all those by traveling with a disabled individual or someone who has been recently injured? That changes the game significantly. Suddenly you must accommodate for things you may not have expected, including an increase in overall travel time, difficulty in navigating airport security, the need to have food (and possibly medicine) at certain intervals and the like.
I travel with someone who must be in a wheelchair in airports and is assisted in walking with a cane at all times. We have been traveling domestically and internationally for almost 20 years, and have made lots of mistakes and have the bad memories to prove it. But, we’ve also learned a few tricks along the way.
Here are a dozen suggestions to make traveling with a disabled person a little easier. They also apply to someone who is injured or has other special health considerations:
- Get to the airport early. Extra time can keep nerves from getting frayed and make the trip more enjoyable.
- Get a wheelchair in the airport when needed. Being in the wheelchair helps conserve energy for the person and keeps him or her safe from runaway baggage, fellow passengers who aren’t watching where they are going and the usual hustle and bustle of airport terminals.
- Check with the airline to ensure that there is a wheelchair at your destination. You may not know the layout of the airport, and the gate can be a long way from the arrivals hall or baggage claim. Again, this saves the energy of the disabled passenger – so the trip can be more enjoyable.
- Double-check with the gate agent to ensure he or she knows that the disabled passenger will need extra time to board. We always assume it is not the gate agent’s job to notice us – even if we are seated in the handicapped area.
- Watch out for yourself! If someone is pushing the wheelchair, make sure that you request stops for restroom breaks and/or refreshments are honored. Some airports (I won’t name and shame) require that the person in the wheelchair be taken immediately to the gate and removed from the wheelchair – leaving the person stuck in a gate area. But, you can nicely request stops if needed.
- Tip the person pushing the wheelchair if he or she does a good job. However, we have had incidents where the people did not receive tips because of their attitude toward the person in the wheelchair.
- Bring all medications with you in your carry-on. Nothing spoils a trip like lost medicines or an incident on a plane with no relief because meds are in checked bags.
- Keep a couple of protein bars or packs of nuts with you in your carry-on. Delays may mean meals are few and far between, and you may need food to take medications – or just keep your energy up during a trip.
- If the person has a disabled placard, bring it on the trip. As a doctor once told my traveling companion, “You are as disabled in another location as you are in your hometown.” We’ve used the placard in international locations with no problems.
- When booking a hotel room -- and upon arrival -- make sure that the accommodations meet the restrictions of the guest. Hotels are usually helpful in seeing to the needs of the disabled.
- If needed, ask the hotel for additional items, such as pillows or ice packs. You can’t pack those easily, and hotels usually have them on hand. We’ve even asked for a fan (to help with breathing), and the hotel had it to us in a flash.
- Enjoy the trip. Make all parts – from the flight to the hotel stay – part of the adventure.
Traveling can be enjoyable even today even when you are with someone who is permanently disabled or recently broke his ankle. It just takes planning and experience.
Do you have tips for making a trip pleasant for disabled or injured travelers and their companions? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.