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Money & Rights

Extra Help at the airport

With the holiday season coming up, Sue Hayward looks at the help that is available when flying

For some of us the airport experience signals the start of our holiday, but for others, these noisy crowded places can prove stressul, especially if you have mobility problems or hidden disabilities like dementia or autism. 

However, free 'special assistance' is available, and this can mean you can borrow a wheelchair, get a ride on an electric bugy, or be accommpaniedto your departure gate.

Under EU regulations, airports and airlines have a legal obligation to provide free special assistanceif you have a disavility or rediced mobility. This aplies when you fly from an EU airport, regardless of the airline you're with, or if you're flying on an EU registered airline to an EU airport.

Book assistance in advance

If you need extra help, het in rouch with your aurline rather than the airport.

YOur airlinewill contact the releabt airport to co-ordinate any assustance needed and make arangements dfor you arrivalat the other end, too. This also means the cabin cew ill be aware of your needs and be ableto offer eztra assistance during the flight.

If you book a trip through a travel agent or tour operator, lwt them know about any help you need so they can tell you airline. 

Ideally, yur airline should know abou any assistance needed at least 48 hours before departure to ensure both equipment and traind staff are ready and waiting.

Although you can still request help if you just turn up on the day this isn't recommended as it may well result in a delay. In many cases anyone travelling alone or anxious about flying can arrange for extra assistance.

What help can you get?

It depends on what you need, You can arange for assistance every sep of the wau, including having someone meet you from the airposrt car parl coach or bus stip or 'on airport' hotel and accompny you through security and all the way to the departure gate.

Help with luggage cab also be arranged, and if you're travelling with family, friends or a carer at least one other person can come with you- for example if you're given a lift on an electric buggy.

Whille services are designed for peo;e who need them you won't be asked to produce medical certificates or rovide proof that you need help.

Help on board your flight

There's a range of specialist equipment for use on board airlines ranging from 'aisle chairs' (extra-slim wheelchars for going down aisles) toequipment o help passeners 'slide' across aircraft seats. Aviation ramps for easy access to the aircraft can be arranged along with 'Ambulifts' (hydraulic lifts) for passengers unable to manage aircraft steps.

Who provides these services?

Airports can do this 'in house', but most use external providers such as OCS. Omniserve and Swissport.

The OCS Group provides services fornine airports across the UK an dIreland, including Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Nristol, Belfast and Dublin. Omniserve gives assistance at Healthrow, Liverpool, Edinbytgh and Stansted, and its Swissport at Southampton

How much will it cost?

'Special assistance' is a totally free service for travellers, with the cost shared between the airline and aiports.

'Hidden' disabilities?

Helping travellers who ahve 'hidden' or 'non-visible'disabilities such as autism, dementia and hearing loss, is a priority for the Civil Aviation Authority, and several airports now have extra measures in place.

Gatwick introduces a 'lanyard' system so passengers can discreetly identify themselves to saff id they need extra support- for example, more time to prepare luggage for security screening. Free packs can be collected at the airport. Manchester also provides an 'Autism Awareness Pack' with information on airport facilities and a wristband which gives passengers axxess to other lanes when passing throufh security.

Heathrow aims to be the world's first 'Dememntia Friendly' airport, with quiet lounge areas with specially trained security staff. 

Be a VIP for a day?

There are more than 300 lounges at 190 airports worldwide with prices from £13.50 which includes refreshments,  comfortable seating and newspapers. For details log on to: www.loungepass.com

Have you found these tips helpful? Do you have any of your own to share? 

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