Easter is over, we’ve had a taste of summer with the hot weather, so naturally thoughts turn to summer breaks.
It can be difficult to find the right holidays for disabled children, which is why we explored holidays for disabled children last time. Now our attentions turn to flying with disabled children. My Family, Our Needs looks at what you need to consider.
Travelling with children can be quite challenging for any family. We all know the ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ question about a mile into a long journey. But for parents who are caring for a disabled child, just going that first mile can be a challenge.
However, there is a growing appreciation of the challenges that adults and children with disabilities face and when it comes to flying away on holiday. To address that a range of much needed services is now being offered by many airlines and airports.
Air travel with disabled children
Go to the Government website Gov.uk has a whole section on transport if your disabled and the section on planes has information about the help you have a right to receive when using European airports if you have a disability that affects your mobility. Information regarding Passport Services can also be found on this site.
It is important to check with your airline at least 48 hours before travelling to explain your needs and to request assistance. Some airports ask for more than 14 days’ notice if at all possible.
You have a right to help at specific arrival points such as terminal entrances and car parks, help to reach check-in and to move through the airport, including to toilets.
Airlines allow you to travel with up to two items of mobility equipment free of charge. These will not count as part of your baggage allowance. If your child is a wheelchair user, it will usually need to be stored in the hold. You must inform the airline if any wheelchair or other mobility aid is battery powered.
Improvements are currently being made at several UK airports. Edinburgh Airport, for example, now has a new app that allows people with disabilities to personalise the assistance they need in advance. This means that the Passengers with Reduced Mobility Reception and special assistance team can prepare for your arrival. The app, Welcome by Neatebox is available on Apple and Android operating systems and can be used in a growing number of venues to improve disability awareness and customer services.
Autism friendly airports
Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester airports have all been awarded an Autism Friendly Award. Aberdeen, Bristol, Exeter, Heathrow and Newquay are also working with the National Autistic Society to achieve that status.
Gatwick Airport has produced an Autism Friendly Visual Guide which may help all children understand the process of going through the airport and accessing the plane.
Shannon Airport in Dublin, Ireland has now installed a sensory room to support people with autism who may be overwhelmed by the airport experience.
Most airports also have lounges which travellers can use for a fee. These lounges are usually quieter than the airport concourse and may be worth the fee to keep your child calm or have some space away from the crowds. They usually have refreshments included in the fee.
Useful sources for travel with disabled children
Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for disabled people
Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for disabled people is a charity committed to helping disabled children and adults to have increased independence and achieve their goals in life. This includes the ability to travel. Families who have SEN children wishing to travel overseas by air can contact Tryb4uFly, a free QEF information and advice service.
Tryb4uFly offers a wide range of helpful services available for those considering flying with a child with a disability. In conjunction with British Healthcare Trades Association, Tryb4ufly has produced a leaflet, Get Wise to Flying with a Disability.
Cabin assessments is another service from Tryb4uFly. A trained occupational therapist will carry out the assessment at one of three centres: in Surrey, Birmingham and Leeds. You will be guided through boarding the aircraft and making the transfer from wheelchair to seat in a real-life scenario to give you and your child a feeling of just what it’s like to be on board and to get your child seated. Additionally, you will be informed about and given the opportunity to hire specialist seating.
Specialist seating for disabled air travel
The Travel Chair, designed by MERU, is a unique chair that fits into a standard airline seat giving firm postural support for disabled children aged 3-11years (depending on their size and weight). It is so adjustable that it allows even severely disabled children the opportunity to fly.
Some airlines, including Virgin, hold stocks of these chairs which are supplied free of charge. This is why it is essential that you call the airline to discuss your needs and their policy on seating, preferably before booking.
If the airline you choose does not offer specialist seating, you can hire a Travel Chair from Tryb4uFly.
Other seating systems include the Burnett Body Support and Cares Child Airplane Safety harness are also available. A quick internet search will find suppliers and the harness is available to buy on Amazon.
Health Information for disabled travellers
MedicAlert is a service that holds personal and medical information on an item of jewellery that is worn by the child. Carrying the international medical symbol, it can be accessed by medical professionals in an emergency. The service costs £32 a year and has information available in 100 languages.
You should take sufficient medication with you for the flight and for the length of your stay. The NHS has information on travelling with medication and it’s important that you consider the rules around medication in the country you’re travelling to as different countries have different rules. Speak to your child’s doctor too, in case you need a doctor’s letter to go with the medication.
If travelling to a hot country and medication needs to be stored at low temperature you may find FRIO helpful. This award winning company supplies travel pouches to keep medication cool.
The following companies offer insurance for disabled people:
When booking insurance cover, make sure your child’s conditions are covered and that you discuss the policy in full, what is and isn’t covered, before you book it.
You may also want to consider holiday cancellation cover.
Help with Luggage
If the thought of struggling with luggage as well as keeping your child happy is daunting, one of these services might be the answer.
Carry My Luggage is a luggage delivery service that will collect your luggage prior to departure and deliver to your destination. Luggage includes items other than suitcases such as bicycles, sports equipment etc.
Blogs about travelling with disabled children
Travelling with Leo is a blog written by a family who travel with their son, Leo. Leo has visual impairment. Specifically, their blog from 13th July 2017 may inspire you.