Easyjet has recently been fined €70,000 (£58,000) for disability discrimination, for refusing to allow three unaccompanied wheelchair users on to flights in 2008 and 2009. The passengers were told they couldn’t travel because they didn’t have a helper to assist them if an emergency exit was needed. A similar case will come to court in March. And several years ago, Ryanair and Stansted Airport were successfully sued when a disabled traveller was charged for the use of a wheelchair to get from the check-in desk to the gate. Just a couple of example of the difficulties disabled people can face when travelling by air. Low cost airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet can only function by keeping their operating costs as low as possible, which means they’re going to try to impose charges or exclusions for anything out of the ordinary. And even if they’re allowed to travel, disabled people often face problems. Power wheelchairs must go in the hold. They’re sometimes damaged, because cargo handlers aren’t familiar with them, or don’t strap them down adequately. People with mobility problems are – literally – manhandled to their seats in narrow “aisle chairs”. So how can air travel be made easier for people with disabilities? A lot of the responsibility must lie with the airlines. On EasyJet’s online booking form, for instance, there’s nothing to ask if you have special requirements. All that would be needed is a tickbox, with an open format box to give more details of needs. But equally, some of the responsibility lies with us, the disabled travellers. Travel agents and flight booking websites don’t know our specific needs, so we have to do their thinking for them! Here are some tips: • If you’re a wheelchair user, you’re likely to be the last to leave the plane. When you’re booking, leave at least an hour to reach a connecting flight • Make sure that your travel insurance covers all pre-existing medical conditions, as well as equipment like wheelchairs • Let the airline know your needs. 48 hours prior to departure is the recommended minimum • If you have a power wheelchair, it’ll have to go in the hold. Tag it with your name, address, telephone number and hotel address – just like your baggage. Ideally, attach instructions for how to dismantle and re-assemble it. It may have to be taken to pieces, depending on weight and size • Make sure you have enough of any prescription medications in your hand luggage for the flight. Remember to allow for delays • With advance notice to the airline, someone from the airport should be able to meet you on arrival and provide a wheelchair and assistance, or guide you through the airport if you are blind or sight impaired • Arrive at least an hour before the advertised final check-in time to allow for a longer than usual check-in. Some airports have a Special Needs check-in. Much quicker than queuing at the main ones! • If you need assistance to transfer from the aisle chair into the plane seat, don’t be afraid to give instructions. You know what help you need and how best to give it • You can ask one of the flight attendants to radio ahead for a manual wheelchair to be ready on the tarmac to meet you. None of us have identical needs. Our needs are as individual as we are. So it’s important to set up a dialogue with the airline as early as possible, and be proactive in letting them know what your requirements are. A couple of links to finish off. Scope have details of a campaign to allow people to travel in their own wheelchairs on board planes. More information here http://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/local-campaigns/flying-high. And a great website with information on flying for disabled people is http://www.flying-with-disability.org/, although not all the links are up to date. Enjoy your flight!