Coronavirus: information and updates

Air travel for disabled passengers

Air travel has changed because of coronavirus. Many flights have been cancelled, but some countries are easing restrictions and opening to tourists.

Coronavirus travel bans and restrictions by country (Skyscanner)

Warning Find out about changes

Contact your airline, airport or travel provider to check if you can still travel and find out about changes. They might operate differently, and there could be changes to:

  • getting to the airport and parking
  • booked assistance
  • luggage, check-in and security
  • what facilities and support are available to you
  • boarding the plane and arriving at your destination

Who can travel

The advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is not to travel to other countries unless it's essential. There is no set list of what is considered 'essential'. This depends on your personal circumstances. This advice may change.

Latest information on air travel and coronavirus (GOV.UK)

Stay at home and do not travel if:

  • you have coronavirus symptoms or confirmed coronavirus
  • you're self-isolating after having symptoms
  • someone you live with or in your support bubble has symptoms or confirmed coronavirus
  • you have been told to self-isolate by the NHS test and trace service

If you have a high temperature or a new, continuous cough, stay at home for at least:

  • 10 days if you have symptoms
  • 14 days if someone you live with has symptoms

Coronavirus health guidelines and risk

Air travel safety measures

You must wear a face mask or covering on a plane from England. There are no flights from Wales at the moment.

To travel safely, the government also recommends:

  • avoiding the busiest times and routes
  • keeping your distance when you travel (2 metres apart where possible)
  • washing or sanitising your hands regularly
  • checking in online
  • wearing a face mask or covering in the airport
  • using contactless payments
  • remain seated as much as possible on the flight
  • let a member of staff know immediately if you feel unwell

Safe air travel for passengers (GOV.UK)

Quarantine rules

Check the rules for the country you're visiting if you must travel.

Travel advice by country (GOV.UK)

You must provide contact and journey details and self-isolate (stay at home) for 14 days when you arrive back in the UK. You may be fined up to £1,000 if you do not.

Latest information on entering the UK during coronavirus (GOV.UK)

If your flight is cancelled

If your flight is cancelled or you decide you cannot travel, contact your airline for advice. You may be able to get a refund or move the date if you booked before mid-March.

Cancelling trips and refunds (MoneySavingExpert)

Warning Book assistance in advance

You must book special assistance at least 48 hours before your flight to make sure that the airline can meet your needs.

Are you fit to fly?

The airline may ask for information about your condition or impairment to make sure that you're fit to fly. You are usually the best judge of this, but speak with your GP or consultant if you're unsure. Buy travel insurance as soon as you book your trip so that you're covered if anything happens before you go.

Let the airline know as soon as possible if you feel that you're not fit to fly after booking a flight.

What support and facilities are available?

Most airports and airlines offer support and facilities for disabled passengers, including:

  • accessible toilets and changing rooms at airports
  • buggies and hover buses to help you get across the airport and to your gate
  • rooms or lounges that can be quieter for people with anxiety and sensory issues
  • pagers that let you know when you can board your flight
  • Sunflower lanyards that let airport staff know you have a less visible condition or impairment

Different staff may support you at different points in the airport.

See what's available at your airport and airline (Civil Aviation Authority)

What equipment can you take?

Think about the equipment you use every day, like a wheelchair or toilet seat, and check if you can take it on the plane. As well as your luggage allowance, you should be able to take 2 pieces of disability equipment free of charge.

You will need to give details about your equipment's weight and size and a manual for your wheelchair when you book special assistance.

Transport if you're disabled (GOV.UK)

What would make your flight more comfortable?

Seating and toilets are often narrow on planes. Ask the airline:

  • how they store equipment like crutches on the flight
  • if they can provide extra pillows and blankets if you need them

Tryb4uFly can help you work out what you need and loan equipment to make your journey easier.

Book a cabin assessment (Tryb4uFly)

Think about loading mindfulness apps or gentle music onto your phone or tablet if you're anxious about flying.

Will you need medication?

Plan medication for your trip at least 4 weeks before you travel.

Check online or with your GP if you can take your medication into the country you're visiting. You may need to bring a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor. Your doctor may charge for this.

Ask your airline about restrictions for medication too. You may only be able to take 100ml of liquid medication in your hand luggage.

It can be a good idea to take twice the amount of medication you need. Split this into 2 separate bags in case some is lost.

Can I take my medication abroad? (NHS)

Who are you travelling with?

If you're flying with a personal assistant (PA) or carer, you need to consider the cost of their air ticket. Check the airport and airline policies if you're travelling alone. Some airlines insist you travel with a companion if you are not able to travel on your own. This is because cabin staff are limited in how they can help you.

Warning Flying with an assistance dog

You have the right to fly with an assistance dog, but you must follow the rules on pet travel. Check the rules for the country you're travelling to.

Taking your pet abroad (GOV.UK)

Preparing for your journey

Booking special assistance

When you book your flight, you will be asked if you're a 'passenger with reduced mobility (PRM)' and need 'special assistance'. Check this box and select what support you need before, during and after your flight. This includes things like pagers to alert you when you're boarding and help with directions in the airport.

The airline may call or email you for more information, such as:

  • details about your condition or impairment
  • the brand, model and dimensions of equipment you want to take on the plane
  • a manual for your wheelchair

Use the airline app, save or print out all of your booking confirmation, including:

  • special assistance you've agreed
  • transport and parking
  • luggage and equipment

Save contact numbers on your phone, like your airline helpline and special assistance desk. Printing a map of the car park and airport can be helpful too.

Getting to the airport

Plan how you'll get to the airport and give yourself plenty of time. If you're taking public transport, you may want to try your route before.

Check how close you can park to the entrance if you're driving and if there's a time limit. Some airports offer a valet service where someone will meet you at the entrance and park your car for you. It's a good idea to contact them before if you have an adapted vehicle.

Finding your booked assistance

Find the special assistance desk as soon as you arrive at the airport. They can help you check in luggage and make sure you have the support you need to get to your flight. It can help to have a letter explaining your condition and the support you need to give to the staff.

Going through check-in and security

When checking in your luggage and equipment, you may need to take it to a different desk for oversized baggage. Any equipment that stays with you will need a sticker or tag to show it's been checked in.

Security can be busy, but there is usually a separate lane for disabled passengers. Common security measures include:

  • a scanner which may affect things like hearing aids
  • being 'patted down' to check you for items that are not allowed
  • swabbing or wiping your clothing, shoes or equipment to check for unauthorised substances
  • scanning your shoes and equipment like crutches

You may be asked for the same information at different points in the airport. This can be frustrating. But it's the staff's job to make sure you have the support you need.

Warning If you feel uncomfortable in security

Let the staff know if you want to be patted down privately or away from the queue.

Boarding the plane

You may have to travel some distance across the airport to reach your boarding gate. Most airports have maps on their website so you can check your route. Depending on the distance, you may want to book a buggy to help you.

From the gate, there are different ways of boarding the plane. You may need to take a shuttle bus to reach it. These can be crowded. If you feel anxious about this, ask if there's another way of getting to the plane.

There will be equipment to help you board the plane, such as:

  • a ramp, sometimes called an aviramp
  • a lift, sometimes called an ambulift
  • a narrower transfer wheelchair

Staff can help you move into a transfer chair if you use a wheelchair. Talk with them first to give clear instructions on how they should help you. Your wheelchair will be put in the hold with other luggage.

Warning Be clear what you need staff to do

Ask staff to stop if you feel uncomfortable about something or at risk of injury. Help them work out how they can support you better or ask for someone else to help you.

Arriving at your destination

The special assistance you book also includes support on your arrival. Staff may wait for other passengers to leave the plane before helping you. You may have new staff to help you at the airport. Your equipment will be at the baggage reclaim point unless you arrange otherwise.

Warning Explaining your condition abroad

Find words and phrases related to your condition or have a letter prepared in the local language. For example, you may need to explain what support you need to staff at your destination.

Download the Accessible Travel Phrasebook for free (Lonely Planet)

Travel checklist

Check the status of your flight before you leave home and make sure that you have:

  • your passport and any other travel documents needed
  • all booking confirmation
  • airport and car park maps
  • travel insurance details
  • medication and doctor's letters
  • manuals for your wheelchair
  • phone numbers for your airline and special assistance desk
  • shoes that are easy to take on and off for security
  • apps or music to help with anxiety
  • a phrasebook or letter explaining your condition in the local language

What to do if things go wrong

It can be stressful when things go wrong that are out of your control, like:

  • long waits
  • delayed flights
  • problems with booked assistance
  • lost or damaged luggage and equipment

Try not to panic and explain your concern to a member of staff. You can also call the airport or airline helpline for advice and support.

Follow the airline or airport complaint procedure if you're unhappy with the support you receive or have any problems with damaged or lost luggage or equipment.

Contact your insurance provider if your travel insurance policy covers your equipment.

You can take your complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) if it is not resolved.

Submit a complaint to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 06/07/2020

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