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The Ups And Downs Of Airport Assistance

A onestop4: team member’s story

A friend (age 72) had been suffering from severe back and knee pain for years, but never wanted to “give in” and ask for assistance at an airport as he hated the idea of being stuck in a wheelchair – even briefly. A regular traveller, he soldiered on through dozens of flight transfers and long treks to boarding gates, often spending a few days stuck in his hotel room or only getting around by taxi while he dealt with the pain caused by all the extra walking.

Finally, he relented and requested assistance for flights to the USA a few months ago. His reaction was simple: “I can’t believe I never asked for help before!”

I (age 40) followed his example in December. I’ve had problems with my ankle for years that flare up when I walk longer distances, and the Dubai flight transfer I was facing is a notoriously long walk. I am so glad I asked for assistance too – if I hadn’t done so, I’d probably still be sitting on a bench massaging my ankle, somewhere between airport terminals!

Airport assistance is extremely professional, regardless of age or anything else. You don’t have to already be a wheelchair user, and you don’t have to have a visible injury or disability. You can even get a lanyard saying you have an invisible disability if you want to.

 

How Airport Assistance Works

Some airlines may be able to provide assistance if you ask when you arrive at the airport, but on the whole it’s important to request it in advance – do this when you book your flights, or contact the airline 48 hours before your flight so they can ensure they have the correct resources available. You can also explain the type of assistance you need if you have any special requirements.

When you get to the airport, there will be an assistance desk or area.

  • Check where this is before you go so you don’t have to search for it.
  • Find out the airline’s preferred procedure and make sure it works for you – or make alternate arrangements if you need to.
  • Do you prefer to check your baggage and then go to the assistance area? No problem.
  • Do you need assistance prior to check-in / baggage drop-off? That’s available too.
  • You should arrive earlier than usual if you require assistance. An extra hour is usually advised, unless the airline tells you otherwise – so if you’d usually arrive 2 hours in advance for an international flight, make it 3 hours with assistance
  • Make sure your travel insurance covers the condition leading you to require assistance – whether it’s a bad hip, a heart condition or an ankle injury, providing full details when you purchase your policy is essential. It probably won’t add much at all to your premium but it can save you thousands if that condition flares up while you’re travelling.   

And don’t forget, you get a 20% discount on all premiums, including medical, when you buy through our website!

  • Find out how the airline handles travelling companions of those requiring assistance. Will they be able to ride in the airport “golf cart” with you (they usually can) or must they meet you at a specific lounge/boarding gate? Plan ahead so you can find each other easily.

On arrival

  • Whether you’ve reached your destination or are transferring to another flight, you can get assistance from your seat, or from somewhere close to the exit (in the tunnel leading to the boarding gate, or just inside the terminal).
  • You’ll usually see airline staff waiting with wheelchairs, or there will be an assistance desk.
  • On landing in Dubai my flight was assigned a remote parking and we had to take a bus to the terminal. Cabin crew advised that I could ask for a lift to take me down to ground level or I could walk down myself. I chose to use the stairs and one of the flight attendants very kindly helped with my hand luggage!
  • There was then a full assistance desk right near the terminal entrance – just a few steps from where the bus let us off.

 

Boarding passes and passports

If you request assistance, you’ll probably need to show your boarding pass and passport a few more times than you usually would – they need to make sure they’re taking the right people to the right places.

When I was sitting in a wheelchair, the person pushing the wheelchair had my boarding pass, and when a few people rode on a “golf cart” the lady driving kept everyone’s boarding passes. I was a little concerned when the assistance desk in the waiting area kept my boarding pass and I saw they had quite a few of those on the desk. What if they got me confused with someone else and I ended up at the wrong gate?!

Don’t worry. I soon realised that it’s a finely tuned system and the airline/airport personnel were fantastic.

The airport team keep an eye on when your boarding gate opens so they can take you through at the appropriate time.

 

Choose your level of assistance

I was very pleased to discover that asking for assistance didn’t mean I had to be wheeled all the way onto my flight. It was absolutely fine to be taken to the boarding gate, wait there and then board myself. Of course, if you have assistance when boarding you get to board first and don’t have to stand in a queue for ages or tussle for space in the overhead lockers…

Are stairs a problem? Airports will have special lifts that they can use, even if other passengers are walking up or down a large staircase. They will provide as much or as little assistance as you want them to – but listen to their recommendations as they do this every day and they have a good understanding of what passengers will and won’t be able to manage.

 

Why don’t we ask for help?

  • It’s hard to admit limitations – to ourselves or anyone else.
  • Other people have much more serious disabilities and we don’t want to look like we’re taking advantage or using resources unnecessarily.

Remember that it’s not a competition. Airports have those resources and they are there to help.

  • Nobody wants to feel like they’re being lazy.

But it’s not laziness, it’s taking care of yourself.

The reality is that airlines and airports are well-equipped and only too happy to assist. They’re respectful, friendly and professional, and you don’t have to explain or prove anything to anyone. People of all ages and ability levels use this service, and if it means you’re able to board your flight and reach your destination without risking your health, your holiday activities, or additional pain, it’s 100% worth doing.