Think your travel days are over?
I sat in on a travel program at the recent Abilities Expo in Dallas. The speaker was Debra Kerper from Easy Access Travel, an expert in making travel easy for those of us with disabilities. Debra is incredibly inspirational as she herself travels extensively using a wheelchair or scooter. She has not let her medical issues slow her down at all and she strives to provide others in similar situations the opportunity to get out and explore. Her motto is “just doing it differently”!
Below are some of the helpful tips and resources Debra provided during her presentation.
Know your rights and be assertive
This advice from Debra is very valuable: She says, “Never take a no from someone who does not have the authority to give you a yes!”. Knowing who to talk to is important.
If you have questions before booking your airline ticket
The TSA (Transportation Authority Association) website is extremely helpful. Check it out before booking your flights and print out the information that applies to you. You never know when you might need to tactfully pull out the information at the airport if you are not receiving accommodations to which you are entitled.
In addition, TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances assistance if needed during the security screening process.
TSA Cares contact info
Contact form (72 hours or more prior to traveling)
Phone: 866-787-2227 (within 72 hours)
Weekdays: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET
Weekends/Holidays: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET
The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to do their very best to provide individuals with a disability with an appropriate seat.
Southwest airlines is the most accommodating airline. If you need a seat with extra room, all you need to do is speak to the representative at the desk. Ask to preboard to choose the seat that works for you; they are not allowed to ask why. Other airlines make things a bit more difficult, however, every airline has a special needs department. Call the airline in advance and ask to speak with someone in this department. They will get you an appropriate seat at no extra charge. Do not pay extra for an upgraded seat when you purchase your ticket! Please note, no airline will bump you to first class, but they will try to accommodate your needs.
Getting help at the airport
What happens if you have a problem at the airport related to an airline accommodation or service? Know that many of the people working at the airport are outside contractors and likely cannot help you with your issue. Instead, ask to speak to a complaint resolution officer (CRO). Every airline must have a CRO available either by telephone or in person during operating hours. This person is the airline’s expert on disability-related issues. They have the authority to resolve complaints on behalf of the airline.
Bringing medical equipment on an airplane
Did you know that airlines are not allowed to charge you to bring medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers or crutches onto an airplane?
They also can’t charge for an additional suitcase carrying medical supplies such as catheters, depends or bandages. The suitcase carrying these supplies must be labeled on the outside and must not contain non-related items. For example, if you have extra space in this suitcase, don’t throw in your bathing suit. The airport staff may open the bag and it will not qualify for this provision if you have random items included with the medical supplies.
What to do if your assistive equipment malfunctions
It can be very stressful when something happens to your equipment enroute. That’s why you need to know about the Global Repair Group, an organization that provides repairs to airline passengers for wheelchairs, scooters, power chairs and all other assistive devices. They have a nationwide network of expert technicians ready to respond 24/7, 365 days per year. When you land at the airport and realize you have a problem, make a claim with the Global Repair Group as soon as possible. They will even make arrangements for loaner equipment and work with the airline to make sure you get it.
Contact information for Global Repair Group:
Do you need travel insurance?
Travel insurance is very important. As per Debra, don’t leave home without it!
You may have insurance that you think covers you, and if that’s the case, make sure you read the fine print! What if, for example, you become ill overseas and need to be hospitalized, then transported back home? This service can cost $50,000 or more and is likely not covered by your credit card provisions or your health insurance plans. If you’re not sure if you have adequate coverage, talk to a trusted travel professional. They can assess what you have and your possible needs and make a recommendation.
Travel insurance may seem like an unnecessary extra expense, but do yourself a favor and cut costs elsewhere. You’ll be glad you did when the unexpected happens.
The bottom line
Debra stressed throughout her presentation that as a traveler with special needs, you need educate yourself so you know your rights. Be assertive and communicate clearly. Plan carefully and consider potential problems that might arise. Finally, if you want a truly stress free travel experience within your budget, consider using the services of a professional like Debra. You may not be aware that most travel professionals do not charge for their services and expertise; they are paid by the hospitality industry. So, your trip will not cost you more than if you booked it online on your own.
About Debra Kerper
Debra Kerper, CATA, ACC, has helped people explore the world since 1993. She owns Easy Access Travel, a Cruise Planners Franchise that is part of the American Express Retail Travel Network. The goal of Easy Access Travel is to ensure that everyone, regardless of age or physical limitations, has the opportunity to travel. Debra, an older adult, has lived with lupus since age 20 and is a bilateral lower limb amputee. She travels extensively using various types of mobility aids (scooter, wheelchair, etc.). Debra speaks nationally about “How to Travel with Special Needs” and loves to share her expertise with everyone. Learn more at easyaccesstravel.com.
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