Air Travelers with Developmental Disabilities

Air travel provides the fastest and safest way for people to make a long journey, but those with disabilities face obstacles when dealing with crowded airports, cramped airplane seating and security lines. However, air travelers with developmental disabilities can travel by air if they make the proper plans and follow smart precautions.

Air travelers with developmental disabilities have the ability to fly under provisions of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The ACAA makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of a disability. The law applies to flights to, from, or within the United States.

Flight nurses who work with non-emergency medical transport (NEMT) companies can help air travelers with developmental disabilities make long journeys by coordinating the trip and providing medical care during the flight.

Rights Under the ACAA

The ACAA mandates that airlines provide air travelers with developmental disabilities certain types of assistance. They offer online videos and information to airline employees on the details of these services. For those with disabilities who plan to travel, it’s helpful to read and watch the material to get a better understanding of the support they have when traveling.

The areas of assistance include:

  • Wheelchair or other guided assistance to board, deplane, or connect to another flight
  • Seating accommodation assistance that meets passengers’ disability-related needs
  • Assistance with the loading and stowing of assistive devices
  • Service animals

Common Challenges During Air Travel

Some of the areas where a NEMT flight nurse can benefit a traveler with disabilities is helping them overcome these common challenges. 

  • Assistance for those with wheelchairs. A report from the DOT listed this as the No. 1 complaint they receive from disabled travelers.
  • Bathroom access. For those who use a wheelchair, a special request often must be made in advance to have a narrow wheelchair that can allow people to get down the aisle to the bathroom.
  • Service animals. Some mistake a service animal for an emotional support animal – they are not the same. However, this can cause confusion in airports at times. 

Flight schedules also can cause issues, especially making a connection with little time available. A highly valued service for air travelers with developmental disabilities comes from RN flight coordinators who handle every aspect of travel plans, including working with airports and airlines for any needed special accommodations.

Those accommodations include special seating considerations and letting the airlines know about any medical equipment they plan to bring onboard. During the trip, flight nurses manage all the traveler’s medications and equipment. They also are specifically trained to provide any needed medical treatment at high altitudes.

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Other Tips for Air Travelers With Developmental Disabilities

  • Arrive early. Get to the airport with plenty of time – at least a couple of hours – to check in, get through security and reach your gate. 
  • Check in. At check-in, let the airline personnel know you have arrived and ask for any assistance through the airport, if needed.
  • Security. TSA has a hotline and other resources people can use for information about going through security with a disability. 
  • At the gate. Check in at the desk to ensure that you’re on the list for pre-boarding.
  • At the destination. Prearrange transportation to pick you up at your destination.

Air travelers with developmental disabilities can still enjoy travel by planning ahead. They also can benefit from getting support during their journey from experienced NEMT flight nurses and RN flight coordinators.

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