Getting there

Tips and advice for people with disabilities if you are travelling by air, rail or sea, including information on your legal rights, security checks, travel insurance and the Pet Travel Scheme.

Overseas travel by train or ferry

If you are travelling abroad by train or ferry, there are a number of things you need to consider. Planning ahead is important to make sure you get there in time.

Travelling by train

Before booking your journey, check with the train company or travel agent that they will be able to help with any needs you have and that train or station facilities you will be using are accessible to you. This could be access or storage for your wheelchair or mobility aid, or the accompaniment of an assistance dog.

Most European trains, including Eurostar, have a limited number of wheelchair accessible areas. You will need to let the booking staff know that you plan to travel in your own wheelchair.

Most trains can carry manual and powered wheelchairs, but may not be able to carry scooters and large powered wheelchairs.

Some journeys and train companies across Europe offer special discounted passes for travellers with disabilities and may allow a companion to travel with you at a reduced rate. Check what is on offer before making a booking.

Some stations have better access than others so check before going to keep your journey as smooth as possible.

Disabled Motoring UK is a charity for drivers with disabilities, passengers and Blue Badge holders. Its members may qualify for a discount on Eurotunnel.

Travelling by train while overseas

Standards of accessibility for rail travellers in other countries vary a lot. In many countries the platform level is much lower. Access between the platform and the street is therefore often much easier. However, access to the train is generally more difficult with two or three steep steps up into the carriage. Facilities are being improved and help is generally available for rail travellers with disabilities.

You may be able to book your tickets in the UK for rail travel abroad. Some European rail companies have offices or agents in the UK. Ask the booking agent to request help be provided if you need it.

Travelling by sea

Before booking your journey or cruise, check with the ferry company, cruise operator or travel agent so they can help with any needs you have.

Ferry companies and cruise operators often require people with disabilities to be accompanied by a companion without disabilities, depending on the nature and extent of the disability. If you are planning to travel alone, you should discuss this with the company first.

Larger UK ports have good facilities; outside the UK it can vary. If possible, check before you book to confirm whether your needs can be met at the port. For example, check for wheelchair ramps and accessible toilets.

The following Consumer Council guide has information on access to ferry travel for people with disabilities and those who are less mobile.

Car ferries

If you are planning to take your car and you are the driver, some ferry companies as well as Eurotunnel, may offer a reduced price. You may have to be a member of Disabled Motoring UK.

Cruises

Some cruise operators may require you to have medical clearance. Check with the operator or your travel agent at the time of booking, along with any other requirements you may have.

Airport and airline services for travellers with disabilities

Under European law, people with disabilities or with reduced mobility (PRM) have legal rights to help when travelling by air. It’s important to let airlines know your needs at least 48 hours before you travel. 

Services for passengers with disabilities

These services should be available at all European airports if you have a sensory, physical or learning disability which affects your mobility when using transport:

  • facilities to summon help at designated arrival points, such as at terminal entrances, at transport interchanges and in car parks
  • help to reach check-in
  • help with registration at check-in
  • help moving through the airport, including to toilets if needed
  • help getting on and off the plane
  • free carriage of medical equipment and up to two items of mobility equipment
  • a briefing for you and any escort or companion on emergency procedures and the layout of the cabin
  • help with stowing and retrieving baggage on the plane
  • help with moving to the toilet on the plane (some planes will have an on-board wheelchair)
  • someone to meet you off the plane and help you reach connecting flights or getting to the next part of your journey

Reduced mobility

Airports are responsible for providing help to people with disabilities and reduced mobility to board, disembark and transfer between flights.

Help on board an aircraft is the responsibility of the airline.

Airport plans

You should visit the website of your departure airport to find out about the layout of the airport and where various facilities are. This includes check-in desks, car parking, accessible toilets and information desks.

Travelling alone

To travel alone, you must be able to:

  • unfasten your seat belt
  • leave your seat and reach an emergency exit
  • put on an oxygen mask and lifejacket
  • understand the safety briefing and any instructions given by the crew in emergency situations

Airline cabin crews are not able to provide personal care. For safety reasons, airlines are entitled to require that you travel with a companion if you are not ‘self-reliant’.

If you need help with feeding, breathing, using medication or using the toilet, you will also need to travel with a companion.

Seating on the plane

Airlines should allow you to choose the seat most suitable for your needs. However, people with a disability or with reduced mobility are not allowed to sit in seats where they may obstruct access to emergency exits. This is because of safety reasons.

Additional seats

If you need to travel with a companion, the airline should make all reasonable efforts to seat them next to you. Some airlines may be able to offer a reduced fare for the second ticket. 

There may be a limit on the number of reduced fares they can offer on one flight. This is especially if it is a holiday package or charter flight. Ask your travel agent or the airline for more details.

The same restriction may apply in cases where the disabled traveller needs to occupy two seats for a reason related to their disability.

Where reduced fares are offered, airlines may require medical proof of your need to travel with a companion or book an extra seat. You should ask the airline or your travel agent what information you will need to give. This could be a letter from your doctor or a Blue Badge parking permit, for example.

Airlines' requirements if you have medical needs

Airline forms

If you have any medical needs, the airline may ask you to complete the following forms:

  • Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD)
  • Medical Information Form (MEDIF)

These are standard forms used by many airlines to help staff organise any help or equipment you may need during your journey and to decide whether you are fit to fly. With some airlines, the INCAD and MEDIF are two parts of the same form.

You can fill in the INCAD form yourself, but the MEDIF form must be completed by your doctor.

Most people do not have to fill in the MEDIF form, or apply for medical clearance to fly through any other procedure the airline may have. This includes people who have stable, long-term disabilities and medical conditions.

You should contact the airline and discuss your disability or medical condition with them – even if your doctor says you are fit to fly – as different airlines have different policies about carrying passengers with  disabilities and people with medical conditions. The airline will be able to give you any forms they need you to complete. You can also get these forms from some travel agents.

Frequent Traveller Medical Card

The MEDIF and INCAD forms only last for one journey. If you are a frequent traveller, you can get a Frequent Traveller Medical Card (FREMEC). This is available from many airlines and gives the airline a permanent record of your specific needs. This means you won’t have to fill in a form and make special arrangements every time you fly. Before you travel with a different airline from the one that issued your FREMEC card, you should check that they will accept it.

Legal rights

People with disabilities and other people with reduced mobility have legal rights to help when travelling by air.

The Consumer Council has information for air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility about their rights and obligations.

What it means to travellers with disabilities

Airport operators are required to provide help to allow reduced mobility passengers to board, disembark and transit between flights. Airlines are required to provide certain help to passengers whilst onboard the aircraft.

Costs will be recovered through a charge on airlines proportionate to the total number of passengers they carry to and from the airport, with no charges to the passenger requiring help.

Passengers needing help must not be charged and airports must publish quality standards so that passengers can measure the service they receive against these standards.

Regulations require all staff providing direct help to passengers to be suitably trained - all staff will need disability awareness training.

Airlines must carry passengers' medical equipment and up to two pieces of mobility equipment free of charge. They must also carry assistance dogs free of charge (on permitted routes). For passengers, this will mean consistency across airports. Passengers are entitled to full help regardless of the airport they are travelling from. Where this is not provided, you can complain to the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.

Air travel if you are blind or visually impaired

When you travel by air, always let your airline, travel agent or tour operator know if you need any extra help at the airport or on the plane. Ask for this at least 48 hours before you fly, so there is time to organise the support you need.

At the airport

For blind or visually impaired people, you can request support services at airports. These include:

  • someone to meet you and guide you through check-in, baggage check and customs controls
  • someone to tell you personally when your plane is boarding if you are in a 'silent airport'
  • someone to help you board the plane and stow any luggage

At a security search, always explain your impairment and ask airport security staff to repack bags in a specific order for you, so that you know where essential items are located.

The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has information for air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility about their rights and obligations.

On the plane

The safety demonstration given by the cabin crew to all passengers at the beginning of a flight should be available in other formats, such as Braille and audio versions. You should request this beforehand if needed.

Cabin crew should:

  • tell you more general information about the plane
  • tell you about its services and facilities
  • describe the layout of your food tray to you
  • open any packaging that is awkward
  • help you find your way to the toilet

Guide dogs and air travel

If you want to take your guide dog on the plane with you, always tell the airline about this beforehand. The airline can ask the owner to produce proof that the dog has been trained by a recognised organisation. In the UK these organisations are members of Assistance Dogs UK.

You should also check the airline's policy on carrying guide dogs. Guide dogs should be allowed to travel free-of-charge and in the passenger cabin with you.

When travelling with a guide dog, you should carry identification for yourself and the dog, and a car safety harness suitable for securing the dog at take-off and landing and at any other time the airline requires it.

Pet Travel Scheme

If you want to take your dog with you on an international trip, the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) could help you avoid long quarantine periods for your dog when you return to the UK.

Not all airlines operate the scheme, so it is best to check with them beforehand. Pets travelling on airlines under the scheme are normally carried in the hold of the plane, but there is an exemption that allows guide dogs and other assistance dogs to travel in the cabin with their owners.

There is more information on the scheme on the following nidirect page:

Air travel if you are deaf or hearing impaired

When you travel by air, always let your airline, travel agent or tour operator know if you need any extra help at the airport or on the plane. You should ask for this at least 48 hours before you fly, so there is time to organise the support you need.

At the airport

If you need help, you can arrange for someone to help you through check-in, baggage check and customs controls. You can also ask a member of staff to tell you personally at the time of the boarding announcement.

Most public address systems in airports should have induction loop facilities, which amplify sound for people with a ‘T’ switch on their hearing aids. Text phones and public telephones with amplification and induction loops should also be available. Staff at the airport information desk should be able to tell you where to find these.

The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has information for air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility about their rights and obligations.

​​​On the plane

It’s a good idea to explain your impairment to the cabin crew, so that they can keep you informed of any important announcements, like delays or emergency landings.

Safety information videos should be subtitled, and you may also be able to pick up public announcements through an induction loop on the plane.

Advice about air travel

Several organisations and charities give useful advice about air travel for deaf and hearing impaired people.

Assistance dogs and air travel

If you want to take your assistance dog on the plane with you, always tell the airline about this beforehand. The airline can ask you to produce proof that the dog has been trained by a recognised organisation. In the UK these organisations are members of Assistance Dogs UK.

You should also check out the airline’s policy on carrying assistance dogs. Assistance dogs should be allowed to travel free-of-charge, in the passenger cabin with you.

When travelling with an assistance dog, you should carry identification for yourself and the dog, as well as a car safety harness - suitable for securing the dog at take-off and landing and at any other time that the airline requires it.

Air travel if you are mobility impaired

A mobility impairment should not stop you from travelling by air. The important thing is to plan ahead and let your airline, travel agent or tour operator know what help you will need at the airport or on the plane.

Booking and advance notice

If you will need help, make sure you give the airline at least 48 hours notice before you travel. This way, the airline can plan ahead and provide you with the help you need at the airport.

Travelling by air may mean that even if you are normally independent you will need help. For example, if you have difficulty walking you may find you’ll need to use an airport wheelchair or buggy to get to the gate.

Wheelchair users

Airlines must carry your mobility equipment free-of-charge. You must tell the airline when you book your flight so that they have the details of your wheelchair or scooter. This is particularly important if you have a powered wheelchair or scooter.

Seating on board an aircraft has to meet air safety regulations. Because of this, you can't take your own wheelchair into the passenger cabin of a plane. It will be stored in the hold of the plane.

Wherever possible you should be able to stay in your own wheelchair until you reach the side of the plane. You will then need to transfer into a boarding chair or on-board chair to get on to the plane.

The point at which you will have to change chairs may vary between airports and will depend on what facilities and equipment are available for the staff to get your wheelchair to the aircraft.

If the plane is joined to the terminal building by an 'air-bridge' or tunnel, you should be able to stay in your own wheelchair right to the door of the plane, as there will be level entry into the passenger cabin.

If the plane is parked away from the terminal, passengers will either have to use a flight of stairs to board or a scissor lift, which allows level access. You will have to transfer into a boarding chair or an on-board wheelchair at the departure gate,  on the ground outside the plane or in the vehicle you travelled to the plane in.

If your wheelchair has to be specially packed, you may need to transfer into an airport chair at check-in. This often applies to powered wheelchairs or scooters.

Travel insurance

Airlines are not required to provide full compensation for loss or damage to mobility equipment. Before you travel, you should make sure your travel insurance provides good cover for your wheelchair.

Toilets on board aircrafts

Some airlines are redesigning aircraft interiors to provide toilets that are wheelchair accessible. However, for some time to come aircraft toilets will generally still be inaccessible for some disabled air travellers. For more details check with your airline.

If you need help to reach the toilet, cabin crew can push the onboard wheelchair and offer general support but they're not allowed to lift passengers or help with toileting.

If you are worried about continence on a long journey, there is a range of possible solutions. You might wish to discuss the possibilities with a continence adviser at your local health centre or hospital.

Airline policies

Some airlines may ask you to prove why you need some facilities or services, like seats with extra leg room. This helps them to give priority to those people who really need these facilities, which are often limited in number. You should not be asked for proof just for requesting help.

Different airlines have different policies. The airline or travel agent will tell you when you book what information you need to give.

An airline is entitled to require that a passenger travels with a companion if the passenger is not self-sufficient. To travel alone, you should be capable of moving from a passenger seat to an on-board wheelchair, as cabin crew are not allowed to lift passengers in and out of seats for health and safety reasons.

Legal rights

Under European law, people with disabilities and other people with reduced mobility have legal rights to help when travelling by air.

The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has information for air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility about their rights and obligations.

Airport security check

Security searches are carried out on all passengers and baggage before they are allowed to board an aircraft. This includes people with disabilities and mobility equipment, such as wheelchairs.

Undergoing a security search

It's important to let security staff know about any disability or medical condition you have that may affect the way in which the search is undertaken. This is especially important for any hidden disabilities such as diabetes or a learning difficulty.

Let staff know if you are finding any part of the process uncomfortable, for example, if you experience pain when raising your arms.

Security staff should:

  • make sure each stage of the process is explained in clear and simple words
  • offer the option of a private area to do the search, if required
  • listen and take your needs into consideration and act upon them as best they can
  • offer help at any stage of the search if you need it

There will be certain things that the security staff should be aware of when searching people with specific impairments. For example, if you have a physical disability, you should be helped to lift baggage onto and off the X-ray machine.

If you are blind or visually impaired, ask for a witness to be present if your bag is searched. Also, your bag should be re-packed exactly as security staff found it.

Medication

Security staff should handle medication discreetly and re-pack it carefully.

If you're travelling with medication or medical supplies you need a letter from your doctor explaining what it is and why you need it, for instance, syringes and large amounts of medication. 

If you're carrying syringes in your hard luggage and you're not carrying a doctor's letter you're unlikely to be allowed to board the aircraft.

You should also tell the airline beforehand if you will be carrying syringes, either in your hand luggage or checked-in bags.

More useful links

 

 

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