Latest Disability Today article

Many thanks to Liz for writing the December article – Improving access and choice on airlines. 

It certainly felt I was on a high when I took my first flight as a wheelchair user to Italy back in 1981. In those days there was no Disability Discrimination Act or right to receive special assistance as a person with reduced mobility.  Nowadays the right to special assistance is stipulated in EU law and applies when you fly on any airline from an EU airport or you fly on an EU registered airline to an EU airport. Watch this space for what this may mean after Brexit.


Back in 1981 I recall being carried up the steps to the plane and having brittle bones the whole experience seemed very scary. Even today there is still no access on the majority of flights to a toilet on board for people who use a wheelchair or need help because of restricted mobility.  This adds to the stress of the experience if flights are delayed on the tarmac and I always avoid drinking tea or coffee!


Despite greater awareness and legal requirements flying is still a struggle for many disabled people and not just for wheelchair users. The recent tragic death of a young girl on board a flight following an allergic reaction to sesame seeds highlighted how serious many allergies are for people affected by them, living in fear of exposure to environmental triggers such as chemicals, food and air pollution.


The airline I fly with confirm on their website that they are unable to guarantee an allergy free environment onboard.  They advise passengers with allergies to carry antihistamines or an ’Epi-pen’ in their Hand luggage so that medication can be easily accessed. People living with allergies might be able to expect more responsibility to be taken for their safety and welfare by a range of service providers in the future, including airlines, should the current legal challenges on behalf of individuals result in a positive change to the law.


There are now a range of pressure groups challenging the right to equal access for disabled people who wish to fly. Chris Wood, a parent of 2 disabled children set up ‘Flying Disabled’ after continually seeing his daughter struggle to access the aircraft, only to sit in discomfort in an airplane seat.  ‘Flying disabled’ seeks to work alongside the airlines with the aims of creating inclusion, dignity and increasing safety.


The National Autistic Society have useful advice available for parents travelling with their children who are living with autism. Some airports and airlines now have far more autism awareness and have produced procedures and guides for customers living with autism. Gatwick airport for example has an autism friendly visual guide for customers.


Some of the UK’s regional airports are also holders of the Autism friendly award.

Improving choice, access and safety for disabled people with all impairments, including ‘hidden disabilities’ makes very sound business sense as greater access simply means more paying customers.


Written by Liz Trethewey