Maxine’s reflections of assisted airline travel

Travelling abroad with a visual impairment

Maxine Plowden reflects on assisted travel when using airlines and compares experiences that she has had from 20 years ago to today.

I remember my first trip abroad on my own over twenty years ago. I had contacted the travel agent and informed them that I   was visually impaired. I informed them what type of assistance that I would require.

I had arrived at the airport and started to search for an information point to direct me to the flight desk.  I looked around there were no signs. I eventually asked someone for directions. When I finally reached my flight information point and gave my details. I went through immigration where I was met by a representative and a wheelchair. I thought there had been a mistake. I informed the representative that I was visually impaired and was in no need of a wheelchair as I was able to walk. The representative then informed me that it was standard procedure to issues all disabled passengers with a wheelchair

{one size fits all so to speak).

I was then place into a room where I would be collected when my flight was ready. It did not occur to them that I might want look around or get something from duty free.

I do not know how many hours I was in that room. Eventually I was taken to my flight. As a person with access needs I got on to flight first. That I have to admit was an advantage. Once on the plane I was given the flight inventory in braille. Again, I explained that I was partially sighted   but could not read braille but could read large printed material. I was informed that was either braille or standard print. The

Flight Evacuation demonstration was   performed by air stewards. Difficult to see but fortunately I never needed it.

When the plane had reach its destination; I was helped off the plane last. Once again met with a wheelchair.

However, that was twenty years ago; so what has changed in assisted travel since then? Well I have just returned from abroad. My experience this time was somewhat different.   I still had problems finding the flight desk. This time I was asked if I needed a wheelchair (Tiny steps at least)/. I was asked if I required not just put into one). I said no. A member of staff walked with me to immigration. I was asked if I wanted to look in any of the shops in duty free? After Duty Free I sat down in an open planned waiting area with other passengers until my flight was called.

When I boarded the plane {first due to access needs) I was guided to my seat. I was still asked if I needed a braille manual? I refused and was inform that was a computer screen {backseat screen) in front of me. I was also asked if I could read /see the information? I was impressed. It meant that I could view the safety instructions. However, the writing was small. I also was told where the toilets were and the exits.  However not all good news. I was informed if that I needed assistance there was a button that I could use and someone would come. I have to say that did not work. I did need assistance but no one came .so I had to ask a fellow passenger to assist me instead. When my flight arrived at its destination, once again I was assisted last off the plane and met by an assistant with a wheelchair.

Airlines, I suppose are getting their acts together but there is a tendency to have one image of disability.   Despite being given relevant information about the person’s needs are. They make assumptions   and provide   the wrong assistance.   Again, how many times do we have say “DISABILITY AWARENESS TRAINING “. I would like to know, do these airlines actually seek advice   from disabled people or relevant organisations?


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