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Flying with a Disability (Special Needs)

Mom travel with Suzanna Keith

Please welcome Suzanna Keith, Blogger at TechandTravelMom.com and Brand Director, EVP of OnlineMomMedia.com.

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Accessibility at airports is trickier than you think...

Navigating after Achilles surgery on my right ankle last August was a tough experience. But being disabled for a short time opened my eyes to the very serious lessons of what it would be like to not be able to walk. Being reliant on others was an eye-popping experience.

Since I love to write about travel, I wanted to share my experiences with different airlines during my short-term disability...

travel restrictionstravel restrictionsLike the story of Achilles in Greek mythology, an injury to that tendon renders you helpless when it comes to walking. Not being able to walk for three months with three children, work and a cross-country move to a new town was stressful - to say the least. Luckily friends from across the country sent meals, neighbors drove the kids to activities and school and helped me hire a college student to handle the morning routine.

After a month on bed rest with the right leg propped up, I decided to venture out in the world using a knee scooter.

The scooter ended up being a lifesaver - and a source of constant entertainment for family and friends. It could gain speed very quickly so the brakes had plenty of use. I began to feel confident enough around town that I decided to begin traveling again. The best part of traveling became packing more shoes than usual because I only needed one - the left one. Unfortunately, I had an issue with a formal party when I accidentally packed only the right one. Black loafers with a cocktail dress attracted a few looks at the business school reunion.

Advice for travelers with medical conditions - plan ahead!

mobility challengesmobility challengesEven though all airlines or airports may not accept it in advance, try calling a week before your flights to arrange for help as you embark and disembark the plane. Often the airlines will give you seats close to the front of the plane (maybe even first class).

Some airlines offer a special chair to help with using the bathroom during your flight. In addition, the pre-arrangement of a wheel chair or golf cart within the terminal makes traveling with the family much less stressful. The transport team will even help you through security, which can be very tricky handling a suitcase and a laptop when you can't stand.

Overall, I had very positive experiences with the airline industry's handling of disabilities. Listed below is my review of the airlines I flew this past year while recovering from surgery (I wasn't in a wheel chair the whole time).

  • Southwest leads the pack with the handling of customers with disabilities due to courteousness of the staff. The attendants made boarding and the flight very easy and comfortable. Since it was my first time on Southwest, I closely watched the way customers lined up by numbers in key groupings before boarding the plane. Thankfully, I was invited to board first and avoided the cattle call. Southwest also gets big points for WIFI on all their flights.
  • Delta scored a close second. They were the only airline that took down my disability concerns in advance. During the boarding, they cracked jokes, going above and beyond to meet my needs such as storing my luggage and helping me to the powder room.
  • airlines offer solutionsairlines offer solutionsUS Air required me to request assistance when I arrived at the airport, which took time. The staff was polite but rushed.
  • United ranked just okay. We rated the Denver crew higher than the teams on our flights to Buffalo and Los Angeles. The differences in attendant's moods might have been dictated by the size of our plane (bigger plane = nicer staff) and the delay issues with the 787 Dream.

I'd like to also point out that New York City and Westchester County, NY make traveling with a disability very pleasant. I braved the New York City sidewalks (very accessible ramps and crossing signals), Metro North, the Subway and the Waldorf Astoria on my knee scooter. Public servants, staff at the Waldorf and every day citizens could not have been nicer. One very attractive city cop even helped me hop up a subway stairwell. I don't know why the big Apple gets a bad rap!

I'm very thankful that my disability was only short-lived and my prayers are with those who navigate these issues on a daily basis. If I can ever do anything to support you, please let me know.

Have you ever traveled in a wheelchair? Got any advice you can share when it comes to navigating the airports? Find us on Twitter or Facebook and let’s start talking!

About Suzanna Keith

Suzanna Keith ~ @skconceptsSuzanna Keith ~ @skconceptsSuzanna Keith is an experienced marketing professional who believes in leveraging revolutionary insights and ideas to grow extraordinary brands. Her expertise includes researching consumer insights and building on these insights to drive long-term strategic direction in all aspects of brand management. Prior to starting her own consulting company Skconcepts, Suzanna served as Brand Manager for Mitchum AP at Revlon in NY, NY. Originally from Bristol, TN, Suzanna graduated from Bryn Mawr College and received her MBA in marketing from New York University. Suzanna is currently EVP for OnlineMomMedia, consults for FaceForward.com, writes the blog Techandtravelmom.com and also blogs for GoGirlfriend.com. Along with her husband and three children, Suzanna splits her time between NY and Texas. 

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