- Enquiries and booking
- At the airport
- On the aircraft
- Medical requirements and medical certificates
- Disability standards for accessible public transport
Travellers with disabilities are entitled to information regarding facilities and services available on their flight, including:
- limitations which are known to the carrier concerning the ability of the aircraft to accommodate an individual with a disability
- the location of seats with movable aisle armrests and any seats which the carrier does not make available to an individual with a disability such as exit row seats
- limitations on storage facilities in the cabin or in the cargo bay for mobility aids or other necessary equipment
- availability of an accessible lavatory.
This information should be available upon request by phone. Airlines must provide a comparable information service for hearing impaired individuals. There should be no difference between the quality of the information service provided for travellers with disabilities and able bodied travellers.
Passengers with disabilities are not obliged to provide the airline with advance notice of their intent to travel or their disability, however it is to the travellers' advantage if they do.
Things to check for
Booking staff can ensure the organisation is ready to assist the traveller by checking on the following points, (preferably without making the enquirer feel they are being grilled):
- the nature of the disability
- whether assistive devices are required to move about (ie crutches, wheelchair, cane, etc)
- whether assistance is required to embark, disembark, go to the toilet, etc
- any specific dietary requirements, including food allergies
- whether assistance with baggage at check in/out is required
- whether a carer or assistant is accompanying the passenger.
Booking staff should be familiar with all the potential issues for travellers with disabilities so they can provide the information to enquirers.
If a passenger does not meet advance notice or check-in requirements, carriers must make reasonable effort to accommodate the requested service, providing this does not delay the flight.
If a passenger provides the required notice, but has to fly with another carrier (eg the flight is cancelled), the original carrier should provide assistance to the second carrier in furnishing the accommodation requested by the individual.
There must be an accessible route from the airport entrance to the ticket counters, baggage handling areas and boarding locations, without expecting travellers with a disability to navigate any further than travellers who do not have a disability. Baggage facilities should be designed and operated to provide efficient baggage handling for all concerned.
Areas such as disabled parking bays, ticketing counters, baggage check in and retrieval areas, restrooms, telephones and medical aid facilities should be clearly marked and easily accessible.
Accessible information systems utilising visual displays and audio systems should be available to provide the information for people with hearing and vision impairments.
Airlines cannot restrict the movements of passengers in terminals, including those with a disability. Nor can they require them to remain in a holding area or other location while waiting for transport or assistance.
All individuals with disabilities should have timely access to the same information provided to the general public, including:
- scheduled departure times and gates
- change of gate assignments
- status of flight delays
- schedule changes
- flight check-in
- checking and claiming of luggage.
People with disabilities must undergo the same security screening as any other member of the travelling public. If they pass through the security system without activating it they shall not be subject to any special screening procedures. Security personnel are free to examine any assistive device they believe is capable of concealing a prohibited item.
Any passenger who activates the security system when they pass through it is subject to further screening. Some airports use a handheld device which allows a complete screening without having to physically search the person. If this method is unavailable a physical search may be necessary. At the passenger's request the search must be done in private. It should be provided in a timely manner to ensure flights aren't missed.
Further screenings cannot be required for any different reason than for the non-disabled, however they may take more time.
Mobility aids and assistive devices
Passengers should be able to take their own wheelchairs to the gate. They should not be expected to surrender their chair at check in and have it substituted for an uncomfortable and often dangerous chair until they board the plane. As well as being uncomfortable and inconvenient, it makes it difficult to do last minute things like shopping and going to the toilet.
Wheelchairs and other assistive devices stowed in the cargo hold should be given priority over cargo and baggage. They should be the first items unloaded. Mobility aids should be returned to their owner as close as possible to the door of the aircraft unless otherwise requested by the passenger.
For reasons of safety the carriage by airlines of battery-powered wheelchairs and mobility aids is regulated under national and international laws.
Some assistive devices may need to be disassembled in order to be transported. The airline is obligated to return them to passengers in the condition they were received in. Always be sure to inspect belongings for any damage as soon as the destination has been reached. Passengers do not need to sign a waiver of liability for damage or loss of wheelchairs or other assistive devices. The airline should make note of any pre-existing defect to the device.
Passengers are entitled to bring on board and use ventilators and respirators powered by non-spillable batteries. These assistive devices shall not count towards carry on baggage limits.
Canes and other mobility aids may be stored under seats or in overhead compartments. Small items such as cushions may be kept in the cabin with the passenger as hand luggage.
Airlines are responsible for the care and carriage of mobility aids during a flight. If a passengers mobility aid becomes lost or damaged during a flight, the airline is obliged to proivide a suitable temporary replacement immediately upon arrival at no cost.
Guide dogs and service animals accompanying travellers with disabilities are permitted on the aircraft. Generally an absorbent mat should be provided for the dog to lie on. They can accompany their companion to their seat, however the service animal must not cause an obstruction. If special arrangements need to be made for service animals, make sure these are made clear to the travellers well in advance.
Guide dogs may be given medication to stop them urinating during a flight. Even without this, a trained guide dog should have no problems on even the longest domestic flight.
Travellers with disabilities are permitted to board the aircraft before the other passengers. This eliminates being jostled and rushed by other passengers and the cabin crew can offer their personal assistance. Travellers may still prefer to board with the other passengers.
Experienced travellers will have made arrangements for the physical aspects of boarding. Less experienced passengers will let the airline staff do the work. Cabin crew need to be familiar with the use of an aisle chair.
Take care when assisting. Ensure the passenger is lifted well clear of the armrests. Knocking them against the armrests can cause pressure areas. Pressure area management is usually unique to paraplegics and tetraplegics and these passengers may want to sit on their own pressure relieving cushions. These should be kept with the passengers at all times, as they can be easily lost.
Where possible embarking and disembarking medium and large aircraft is done by level boarding ramps, jetways, mobile lounges or lifts. Where these are not available, a lifting device, other than that used for freight, must be provided to assist passengers with limited mobility safely on and off the aircraft. Passengers should not be hand carried on and off the aircraft. Any boarding device is to be deployed if a passenger requests it's use.
Trained service personnel who understand how to assist individuals with a disability in embarking and disembarking should be made available by the airline.
The airline is responsible for providing assistance to the passenger in reaching a connecting flight. The airline cannot leave a passenger unattended for more than 30 minutes in a device in which the passenger is not independently mobile.
How cabin crew can assist
Many difficulties stem from lack of awareness of the issues. Talk to passengers about their needs and inform them of their options and what they can expect.
Cabin crew can assist a passenger with a disability to:
- move to and from their seat as part of the embarking and disembarking process
- open packages and identify food
- use aisle chairs when moving to and from the toilet
- move to and from the toilet in the case of a semi-ambulant person
- load and retrieve carry-on items, including mobility aids and other assistive devices stowed on board the aircraft
- ensure that all passengers get a briefing in a form they understand.
Note that cabin crew are not required to provide assistance with eating, assistance inside a toilet or medical services for a person with a disability. Cabin crew are also not required to provide assistance with lifting or carrying a passenger.
Many airlines offer additional services such as upper torso restraints, if passengers have difficulty sitting upright, and leg support bridges if they are unable to bend their legs while seated. Cabin crew should be aware if their organisation has these available and familiarise themselves with their use.
It is the responsibility of the cabin crew to ensure that all passengers get a briefing in a form they understand. In most instances verbal and auditory measures are enough. Most airlines are able to provide braille and large print safety briefings for passengers unable to access the video and cabin crew safety demonstrations.
The safety regulations insist that, if there are variations to the safety instructions due to the carriage of disabled passengers, they must be clearly outlined. This may be something that can be covered in pre-flight discussions.
Ensure the aisle chair is available during every flight. It is inconvenient for all concerned if carers or assistants need to contact cabin crew every time one is needed.
Some will choose not to use an aisle chair and will want the independence of getting around themselves. They will bum their way along the aisle. Others will use a skateboard.
Not having the aisle chair available during a flight and refusing to help a passenger to the toilet is a denial of their rights. The passenger is probably capable of transferring themselves from the aisle chair to the toilet independently, but may need someone to push them to and from the toilet.
A person who is blind or vision impaired can be assisted with a simple explanation of where the food is on the plate. Directions are given like a clockface (eg. at 12 o'clock is the salad, it has a dressing in a sealed package which I have placed on top of it for you if you would like it, at 6 o'clock is your main meal, etc). Severely disabled will need to be fed by their carer.
The first toilet cleaned during a stopover should be the one accessed by the disabled passengers. This allows those remaining on the plane to have ongoing access. Keep a supply of water for the passengers during the stopover if they are confined to the plane.
Even though many wheelchair passengers may not walk, they might enjoy the opportunity to move about. Where possible, please allow them to do this.
Encourage group bookings to arrange a seating plan. Endeavour to keep the group together where possible. This will give the passengers easy access to their carers, and vice versa.
It is easier for these passengers to be the first on and the last off. By doing this settling issues of where people's gear is and what they need to access can be sorted out while other passengers are boarding.
It has been suggested that the best seats for a group of disabled passengers is at the rear of the plane. They could have potential exclusive use of the back toilets. Larger groups they will have access to their own "emergency exit". Where possible keep some spare seats near the disabled - wheelchair users can't exit on long haul flights.
Carers and assistants
Carers usually have a high workload during a flight, especially if they are caring for more than one passenger. Cabin crew can assist by being considerate of their needs as well (eg. their meals may need reheating).
The airline may require a carer or assitant to be present when transporting:
- a person travelling on a stretcher or in an incubator (where this service is offered)
- an intellectually disabled person who is unable to comprehend or respond to safety instructions
- a mobility impaired person who is unable to assist in their own evacuation.
Airlines are not required to provide medical oxygen, carry incubators, hook-up respirators or accommodate a passenger who must travel on a stretcher.
A disability is not sufficient grounds for an airline to request a medical certificate. Medical certificates may only be required if the passenger:
- is on a stretcher, in an incubator or needs medical oxygen during the flight
- has a medical condition which may require extraordinary medical assistance or may not enable them to complete the flight safely, or
- has a communicable disease or infection which may be transmitted during a flight.
Airlines cannot mandate separate treatment of a person with a disability, except for reasons of safety or to prevent the spread of a communicable disease or infection.
- HREOC - disability standards and guidelines.
- Australian Attorney-General's Department - human rights and anti-discrimination.
- Australian Federal Register of Legislation - disability standards for accessible public transport 2002.