By George Abraham
If you are visually impaired, traveling by air can be a harrowing and difficult experience. George Abraham gives some quick tips that will help ensure a smooth and safe journey the next time you’re flying.
A few years ago, a blind woman was offloaded at Mumbai airport, along with her two infants, while she was on her way to Goa. The airlines said they could not manage the disabled woman and her two kids onboard. A week later, a blind corporate executive was offloaded at Patna airport on similar grounds. In the recent past, there have been several instances where people with disabilities have run into problems with air travel. Due to this, there is a general apprehension amongst people with disability about traveling alone by air.
Here are 10 useful tips that can help such individuals experience trouble-free travel by air.
Booking your ticket
For starters, while booking tickets, it is important to mention that the passenger has a disability and therefore needs assistance. This information gets fed into the system and is available to all ground staff and onboard personnel, both at the arrival and departure terminals. The information is linked with the traveler’s PNR number. If the ticket is being booked through a travel agent or with the airline directly, the booking official can make the entry.
At times, the option of making a request for assistance might not be available while making an online reservation. In such situations, one needs to call the airline and ensure that the passenger’s need for assistance is fed into the system. All airlines have toll-free numbers that can be obtained either from the web or from a directory service.
Keep important numbers handy
Passengers with disability who travel frequently must ensure that their phone books have all necessary contact information for the airline’s Enquiry Desk, the Duty Manager at both arrivals and departures, and any other special assistance-related numbers. This information can come in handy when you’re in trouble.
Touch base with the airline a day before travel
t is useful to call up the airline on the day before you travel, or on the morning of the flight, and reiterate the fact that you are disabled and will need assistance. Take the opportunity to mention that you don’t need a wheelchair but need human assistance to escort you through the various processes at the airport like check-in, security checks, and boarding.
Keep the airline staff in the communication loop
Again, as you get close to the airport, give the airlines a call and inform them that you will be reaching the terminal shortly. Ask them what gate you need to reach. Also let them know how you are traveling to the airport. In the normal course of things, they will send someone to pick you up right from where your vehicle stops. Else, you could request your taxi driver or the auto driver to escort you either to the gate mentioned by the airline staff, or to the airline’s ticket booking counter at the airport. In the event that you do not have the airline’s number, you must ask your driver to escort you to the airline ticket counter, where you can seek assistance.
Be vigilant at the check-in counter
Once the airline staff takes over, he/she will ensure that all your check-in formalities are completed. You must ask for your boarding pass and request the staff escorting to tell you what your seat number, boarding gate, and boarding time is. You must also check if the baggage tags have been pasted onto your boarding pass, if you have checked-in any luggage.
Clearing the security check
The next step is the security check. Here, your hand baggage is passed through an X-ray machine, and you pass through a metal detector. If carrying a laptop or a mobile phone, you have to take them out and put them into a separate tray. You should open your bag and take the laptop out instead of the airline staff doing it for you. You have the option of either putting the mobile phone into the same tray as the laptop, or you could also put it into your bag. In some airports, they might also ask you to take off your belt, jacket, and purse, and put them through the X-ray.
Once you pass through the metal detector, you will be frisked by a CISF official. It helps to smile and wish him. Don’t worry, lady passengers are frisked by lady security personnel. Then you need to collect your stuff. Ensure that the baggage tag and your boarding pass have been stamped by the security people. You will then be taken to your boarding gate where you will need to wait till the flight is announced. At any time, should you need to go to the wash room, or want to eat something, mention it to the staff assisting you.
Approaching the aircraft
Once the flight is announced, your boarding pass is entered into the computer system, after which you can proceed towards the aircraft. Some airports have aerobridges while at other airports you will approach the aircraft in a coach and then climb into the aircraft either by a ladder or a ramp, depending on the airline.
Onboard the aircraft
Once inside the airplane, you will be escorted to your seat, and the bags will normally be placed either below the seat in front of you, or in the bin just above your seat. The responsibility of assisting you is now transferred from the ground staff to the flight crew. An air hostess will brief you on the various aspects of safety, washroom, food, etc. that you should be aware of while flying. Some airlines have these instructions in Braille as well.
At the arrivals
Once you arrive at your destination, the ground staff will take over again. They will assist you with your baggage and escort you out of the airport. They can help you with a cab, auto, or bus, depending on how you propose to proceed from the airport.
Make friends with the staff
Finally, remember, the airline staff who assist you are all human. Ask them their names, make conversation, try and befriend them, and take their numbers. Amazingly, you will discover that the next time you travel, these very same airline officials will be much more than mere professionals who provide you assistance.