There can be no denying that, in years gone by, it could be difficult for disabled people to go on holiday and have a truly enjoyable time. A combination of bulky mobility aids, inaccessible accommodation and the inconsistent quality of disabled facilities at airports often led to wheelchair users deciding that travelling to foreign shores would be too much hassle and that it was simpler to take a ‘staycation’ or just not go away at all.
Thankfully, recent times have seen something of a revolution in disabled passenger flights, largely due to holiday agents and other interested parties belatedly realising that there is a huge market they were missing out on!As well as many lightweight mobility scooters now being easily foldable and ideally suited to air travel, airlines have also worked hard to improve their services for customers with all kinds of physical and mental conditions. In this article, we look at the five carriers which we believe have done the most in terms of making their flights as accessible as possible.
The Australian ‘flag carrier’, Qantas Airways, is our top pick, being an airline that really does take its responsibilities towards their passengers with reduced mobility and other disabilities seriously.
In March 2018, Qantas successfully completed the first non-stop flight between Australia and the UK, reaching Heathrow a mere(!) 17 hours after leaving Perth, and that remarkable feat is quite symbolic of the joined-up, start-to-finish service that you can expect to receive from them if you are disabled or caring for someone who is.
Just a few examples of Qantas’s commitment to access for all include their dedicated staff meeting you when you arrive at the airport (if requested), giving passengers the option of being lifted in and out of their seats, priority boarding, a warm welcome to guide dogs and other service animals, and discounted tickets for some disabled fliers and their carers.
If you want to find out more about everything Qantas does to facilitate its disabled customers, you can read their detailed Access Statement by clicking here.
Another national flag carrier, Air Canada is possibly second only to Qantas when it comes to the all-around quality of its disabled-friendly services.
The well-trained and personable staff at Air Canada will, like at Qantas, provide specialist attention from the moment you step foot in the airport until you arrive at your destination; perhaps most impressive of all is the fact that they will usually also check on how you are doing at regular intervals, regardless of whether you have requested additional support.
Another notable perk of flying with Canada’s national airline is that – if space allows – they will usually be happy to offer you additional seating at no extra charge if your condition means that you could do with more room for yourself or any essential equipment. Service animals are also permitted on flights if they do not block the aisle.
There is an extensive information section for disabled passengers on the Air Canada website (including a sub-section concerning wheelchair and mobility scooter users), which you can find here.
The final flag carrier on our list, British Airways (BA) will already be familiar to many of our readers. It will also come as a relief to learn that, by and large, BA offer those with limited mobility a service that is good enough to rival that of Qantas and Air Canada.
To make things as simple as possible and give staff an advance idea of how much assistance they will need to provide, BA request that customers choose from one of three ‘service levels’ before they travel. Here is a quick breakdown of the help each level delivers:
- Service 1 – Assistance to and from your plane.
- Service 2 – Assistance to and from your plane; assistance with getting up and down the plane’s stairs.
- Service 3 – Assistance to and from your plane; assistance with getting up and down the plane’s stairs; use of an onboard wheelchair to get you to and from your seat and around the cabin.
To find out more about how BA helps passengers with a range of disabilities – and to request mobility assistance prior to your flight – click here.
An in-depth review of travelling on BA as a wheelchair user, written by an independent disability blogger, can also be read here.
Virgin Atlantic is another of the UK’s best-known airlines and has a good record of delivering a comfortable flying experience for people with all manner of disabilities. They are particularly renowned for the excellent support given to passengers with visual, hearing and mental difficulties; one example of how Virgin go above and beyond in these areas is that they are able, with advance notice, to ensure at least one member of their cabin crew is proficient in British Sign Language.
Whilst Virgin Atlantic may not offer a ‘door-to-door’ service quite as comprehensive as that provided by the likes of Qantas, there is no doubt that the assistance they do give is carefully considered and of the highest quality. All long-haul flight aircraft, for instance, feature large, wheelchair accessible toilets – something that remains sadly lacking from many of the world’s biggest airlines.
More details regarding Virgin’s disabled passenger policies and all the help that is available on-board can be found here.
Of course, the relatively pricey nature of air travel means that many of us will end up making most of our plane journeys on low-cost airlines. As perhaps the best-known budget flight operator of all, easyJet has a responsibility to do what they can to offer a seamless service to what is inevitably a large proportion of the UK’s disabled passenger population; fortunately, Europe’s second-largest carrier has a fairly good, although not unblemished, record in this respect.
Between 2010 and 2012, easyJet was subjected to severe criticism following some unsavoury incidents involving disabled passengers, the most infamous of which saw an electric wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy initially refused access to his flight. In the last few years, however, the airline has done much to improve its treatment of people with limited mobility (and other conditions), and it is now widely considered to be the most disabled-friendly option for budget-conscious travellers.
EasyJet’s disability information page includes a very useful and easy-to-digest video that explains the different kinds of assistance available to passengers, along with details of how to request it.