Preparing for travel abroad when mobility is restricted
Prepare as much as you can in advance of your holiday so there isn’t a last-minute panic, and check out the following travel tips
‘Don’t be afraid to travel’ is the upbeat message from Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) to everyone who wants to go on holiday. Photograph: iStock photo
Holidays are a quality of life issue, and are worth planning and preparing for well in advance. Photograph: iStock
Sunshine always makes people feel better but cancer patients can be more susceptible to sunburn so they need to be careful. Photograph: iStock photo
Travelling abroad when you have restricted mobility or if you are recovering from an illness or treatment is commonplace and there is no reason why it should pose serious problems if good preparations are made. Here are our tips for making travel as easy as possible, as well as expert advice and things to remember.
Talk to people before you travel
Call your travel insurance company and tell them you are travelling and ask them about your level of health cover. Obtain your free European Health Insurance card from the HSE – this will allow you to access public healthcare services if you are on holiday in any EU, EEA country or Switzerland.
Go to your pharmacist and get copy prescriptions and advice on medications for your destination. Ask a friend or family member to help you with house and/or pet care and for a lift to the airport.
Organise a transfer with a local transport company or print out details of public transport available to you at your arrival airport.
Try to book a holiday that makes travelling easy for you
Give yourself plenty of time
Airlines need at least 48 hours’ advance notice of your assistance requirements so make sure you notify them of the level of help you need as soon as you book your flight. Tidy your house, book your transport to the airport and pack a few days before you travel so you have as little as possible to do the night before you go. Photocopy or take photographs of your passport, medical information and travel documentation well in advance and leave them with someone at home in case you lose anything. Plan to get to the airport early – you won’t regret having extra time at the airport but you will feel stressed if you are under time pressure due to an unforeseen delay.
Use the assistance available
Apply to the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland for a badge that you can use in any car in which you are travelling if you have mobility problems as this will entitle you to park at the short-term car park for a lower tariff in accessible spaces as well as allowing you to park free in public disc parking areas.
Bring a photocopy of your disabled parking disc with you to the airport because the car park staff will accept it for your car so you can travel with your disc while you’re on holiday.
Make it comfortable
Don’t wear a belt and wear slip-on shoes and a loose cardigan or heavy scarf that you can take off easily. You might like to leave your jewellery at home for safekeeping. If you’re stressed, talk to people, it’s a great way to pass the time and people are usually in good form when they’re going on holiday.
Travelling through Dublin airportDublin Airport AuthorityLiz Kavanagh
DAA meets regularly with a broad disability user group to discuss ways to make travelling easier for its members. Its efforts were recently acknowledged by Airports Council International (ACI) giving Dublin airport the “Best Airport for Accessibility in Europe” award for its commitment to making travelling easier for Persons of Restricted Mobility (PRMs).
The airport uses an English family-owned Company OCS as its service provider and its services are held up as example of best practice to other airports in Europe. Staff at Dublin airport advise the Government and Iarnród Éireann on how to improve accessibility for PRMs throughout Ireland.
The “PRM” term is widely interpreted by the airport and covers everyone from a sportswoman with a broken ankle to a permanently disabled wheelchair user and includes anyone with vision, hearing or learning difficulties, hidden disabilities, autism and the elderly.
PRMs should contact their airline at least 48 hours in advance to ensure that their individual needs are communicated to airport staff on time.
PRMs can request a traveller assistant to help them get through the airport, personal wheelchair assistance and Important Traveller wrist-bands and lanyards.
Dublin airport has many useful facilities throughout the terminal including dedicated set-down areas for cars, tactile paving to guide PRMs to service provider reception points, 18 help points with telephones, PRM service provider points near the check-in areas, low level flight information displays, relief areas for guide dogs, voice-overs in the lifts and amplification induction loops, private rooms, accessible retail and catering areas and new changing areas for disabled adults.
For travellers who want to avoid airport stress completely, there is a 24-hour “Platinum Services” area. You can avoid the main airport and drive to a private car park where you will be welcomed by staff and encouraged to relax, watch TV and snack in your own suite. Staff will take your luggage and check you in away from the crowds before you are transferred by chauffeur in a luxury BMW to your aircraft. If you are a wheelchair-user, you will be transferred in an appropriate vehicle. Rates start from €160 per person, including VAT. For two people travelling together, rates start at €240 per duo.
Travelling advice after cancer treatment Dr David Fennelly, a consultant medical oncologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital, says holidays are a quality of life issue for his patients. Here is his advice for cancer patients travelling abroad.
“Holidays are a quality of life issue. Many of the cancer patients I look after are terminally ill and a holiday may represent their last opportunity to travel and be with their family in a relaxing environment.
“When people are on holidays, the time they spend together is more special and important memories are made for patients and their relatives.
“The first thing I want to do as a doctor is to ensure that it’s safe for my patients to travel. I think it’s a question of balancing the risks and benefits. Obviously long haul isn’t a good idea, it’s physically draining and it’s important to ensure that people have a simple way to return home.
“Sunshine always makes people feel better but cancer patients can be more susceptible to sunburn so they need to be careful. Depending on my patients’ conditions, I might prescribe tablets for nausea, prophylactic antibiotics, laxatives, anti-emetics or steroids. It’s better to travel in between cancer treatments and to avoid travelling while actively on chemo or radiation.
“I would also look at access to healthcare abroad. In places in Europe like Portugal, Spain and France you would know what you could anticipate there in terms of healthcare. I would advise patients to check their travel insurance and take along a letter with their medical history and prescriptions for their medications.
“Travel has become more routine for everyone but there is a certain amount of hassle brought about by security that can be overcome by assistance or organisation. I’ve used a traveller assistant with my own relatives and if you have an elderly relative travelling on their own, you should use special assistance. I recommend to my patients to always use a wheelchair because there’s a lot of walking involved and they should take advantage of all the help and use all the facilities offered to them.
Recently, we published an article about accessible travel destinations and tips for booking holidays (June 14th, 2016).
In response to the piece we received a number of accounts from people with disabilities or reduced mobility who travel regularly. Despite enjoying their travel to new destinations, they highlighted the difficulties faced on board aircraft depending on the airline.
This is Karen’s story of a recent flight she took from Dublin.
Karen’s story “I’ve been in a wheelchair for the past four years because I have MS. I go on holidays every year to places in Europe like Bulgaria and Spain because I love the sun.
“I normally travel with Aer Lingus or Ryanair. Dublin airport is absolutely brilliant because when I check in I am looked after and there is no queuing and if I was on my own they would bring me from check-in right to the boarding gate and help me with my bags.
“When I’m travelling back, they do the same thing in other airports in Europe and I never have any problem getting onto the plane or using the facilities, there’s plenty of help.
“I always go to the toilet before I get on the plane but if I’m on the plane and I need to go it’s difficult because I can’t get to the toilet myself and they are not wheelchair accessible.
“I was on a flight recently and I was seated at the window. I asked could they give me an aisle chair because I needed to use the toilet. An aisle chair is a narrow straight- back chair with wheels.
“It is designed to fit down the aisle of an aircraft and used to assist passengers who cannot walk. They didn’t have one on board so my friend had to carry me over the seats and from row 10 up to the toilet.
“I was so embarrassed because he had to carry me at shoulder height. I had to put my arms around his neck and he held me up and it was horrible and I was worried because I felt people were looking at me.
“I think it would be better if they gave people in wheelchairs an aisle seat near the top of the plane near the toilet and if every flight had those aisle chairs to help me get to the bathroom if I need to go. I’m a small person so it was relatively okay . . . but for other people, I don’t know how they do it.”
Aisle wheelchair Every Ryanair aircraft has an on- board aisle wheelchair which crew use to assist PRMs getting to and from the aircraft toilet door. Other airlines do not have aisle chairs on all their aircraft.
They say they endeavour to seat wheelchair users and PRMs as close as possible to on-board toilets and are happy to facilitate seating requests from passengers with reduced mobility.
According to the Commission for Aviation Regulation, since 2008 “airlines must have the facility to make reasonable efforts to arrange seating on request and subject to safety requirements and availability, so as to meet the needs of individuals with disability or reduced mobility” and “assist disabled persons or persons of reduced mobility in moving to the toilet facilities if required”.