Traveling With Your Eye Shut
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Part Four - Air Travel
By Rochelle Caviness - June 10, 2002
Getting to the Plane:
Let the airlines know, in advance, that you are visually impaired and that you will need assistance at the airport. Most airlines have personnel trained to handled special needs passengers. For instance, American Airlines has Special Assistance Coordinators who will work directly with you to ensure that your individuals needs are met - if it is in the power of the airline to do so.
All airports have Complaint Resolution Officials (CRO) who can help mediate any problems that you encounter while in the airport. As well, some airlines, such as Continental Airlines, have their own CROs on duty at each airport that they service.
- In addition to notifying the airlines that you are visually impaired, also notify the staff when you check in. If it has not already been arranged, they may be able to arrange for someone to escort you through security. And, in most airports, they may be able to drive you to your gate.
- Notifying the airlines, in advance, that you are visually impaired is especially important if you are traveling with a guide dog. Your dog can legally travel with you, at no additional charge. Be aware that some airlines limit the number of service animals allowed on each flight.
- Due to the new security regulations, special arrangements may be needed to walk your dog outside, during layovers, in such a way that you will not be forced to go through security again. Be sure to check with the airlines that you will be traveling with to see if such 'walking time' can be arranged in advance. However, if you need to go outside of the 'secure' area to walk your dog, you will have to go through the security screening process again - so plan accordingly!
- You may be asked to show proof that your dog has been vaccinated for rabies within the last year, and some airlines may also request that your present a certificate of health for your dog. You may also be asked to show proof that your dog is indeed a service animal. Be sure to ask, when booking your flight, exactly what documentation you will need for your guide dog. Most airlines will accept your verbal assurances that your dog is healthy and that he is a service animal - but it is always wise to check so that you don't run into any trouble.
- Before taking your guide dog with you, make sure that he will be allowed to enter the state or country that you will be visiting. For instance, all dogs, even guide dogs, must undergo a lengthy quarantine before being allowed into the state of Hawaii. See also, Traveling with a Guide Dog for more tips.
- If you read only braille, let the airlines know in advance so that they can ensure that braille safety cards are available for your use.
- Request to pre-board the flight - this will allow you to board the aircraft before the mass rush for seats. If you ask, most airlines will give you the opportunity to count seats and orient yourself, in regard to finding the emergency exits, and the bathrooms.
- Arrive early and be patient! With all the new security regulations, it may take you longer to check in and to make your way to the gate than it used to.
In the past, security was the responsibility of each individual airline. However, since February of 2002, responsibility for security - including pre-boarding screening, has been assumed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If you have any complaints about the screening process, you can contact the TSA directly, at:
Telephone number: 1 (866) 289-9673
E-mail address: 9-AWA-TELLFAA@faa.gov
Street mailing address: Transportation Security
400 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20590
- If you are traveling alone, but want or need to have a companion or assistant accompany you through security and to the gate, you may be able to obtain a authorization pass from the airline. This pass will allow your companion into the gate area. As with most things, be sure to ask about the procedure for obtaining such a pass, in advance of arriving at the airport.
- In the mad rush to tighten security, some policies have been enacted that are, let us say, on the stupid side. Technically, security screeners are no longer suppose to confiscate items such as toe nail clippers - but it still happens. So, to minimize hassles don't take anything in your carry on bags that someone with an active imagination might consider as a potential weapon, such as toe nail clippers and metal nail files. It goes without saying that scissors, knives, firecrackers, and the like are all items that are still no-no's.
- If you are traveling with a guide dog, you may be asked to remove his harness so that it can be put through the x-ray machine, along with your carry on luggage. The dog will also have to go through the metal detector. If removing the harness will cause difficulties with your ability to handle the dog, i.e., by removing the harness he thinks that he's now off duty, ask that he be screened manually - with the harness on.
- If you carry a cane, this will also have to be put through the x-ray machine.
- Should the security people hassle you over any item that you are carrying with you that you need - in regard to your impairment, politely request that they call for a complaint resolutions official (CRO). Every airport is require to have a complaint resolutions official on duty, or to have access to one, such as via the phone. Complaint resolutions officials have the authority to settle complaints on the spot. They are also trained in the issues, and legalities, surrounding the needs of the disabled. As long as your visual aid does not represent a threat to the safe operation of the airline, security officials do not have the right to prevent you from taking it on the plane with you - they may not however, know this - hence the occasional need to call in an complaint resolution official to set them straight.
- Also, if you will be taking any medications on board with you, take them along in the original vials/containers. Carrying pills in unmarked containers can causes hassles when going through security.
In the past, visually impaired and blind individuals were encouraged to take only carry-on luggage in order to minimize the hassle of collecting their luggage after the flight was over. However, with the new security regulations in place this is not always practical as it can be difficult to take such benign items as toe nail clippers through security.
- If you plan on checking your luggage, be sure to mark it in some manner that will make it easy for you to identify, or to describe to someone collecting your luggage for you.
- If you will need assistance checking in, be sure to let the airline know in advance so that, if possible, they can arrange for someone to escort you through the check in process.
- On airlines, visually impaired individuals may be prohibited from sitting in seats next to the emergency exits. This is because the person sitting next the emergency exit is expected to be able to easily open the door in case of an emergency. Due to this children, frail looking individuals, and other that may have difficultly operating the door are also prohibited from sitting in these seats.
- As well, if you are traveling with a guide dog and the dog is obstructing the isle, you will be asked to move to another seat that will accommodate your dog.
For more information about air travel, see:
Other sections in this series:
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