Art Aiello is a writer and editor based in Waukesha, WI.
The holiday season doesn’t just mean food, friends and family. It means travel, and lots of it. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the spikes in long-distance travel around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day are significant. Around Thanksgiving, trips to and from destinations more than 50 miles away increase by more than 50%, and during Christmas and New Year’s Day, the increase is about 23%.
While personal vehicles account for more than 90% of holiday travel, there is still plenty of air travel that takes place. USA Today recently reported that for Thanksgiving this year, airlines are forecasting about 65,000 more travelers per day than in 2014. If you plan to be one of them — and if you have limited mobility, artificial joints or other implants — air travel can be a little more challenging for you. Here are some tips for making sure your air travel experience is as pleasant as you expect your holiday celebrations to be.
First, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to get to — and through — the airport. The recommendations for the amount of time you should allow yourself between arriving at the airport and the departure of your flight varies across many of the major air carriers. Delta, for example, recommends arriving at the airport 75 minutes before departure. United Airlines recommends 90 minutes if you’re checking luggage and 60 minutes if you are not. American Airlines says that you should give yourself two hours during holiday travel. These recommendations are all for domestic travel; for international travel, you should give yourself two hours. In any case, the earlier you arrive for your flight — within reason, of course — the better. Perhaps Delta says it best on their website: “The Early Bird Catches the Plane.” And remember, the clock starts ticking when you pull into the parking lot, because you still have to get from your vehicle to the ticket counter for check-in.
As for getting through the airport, you can of course use your Motivo Tour, which will speed you along to the security check in. If you are worried about time or your ability to walk the distance to your gate, however, even with your Tour — some terminals at some major airports are the better part of a mile long — you can request a wheelchair and attendant from the airlines. They can meet you at the ticket counter and take you to — and through — security, all the way to your gate. Notify your airline at least 48 hours before your trip that you would like a wheelchair available, when you need it and for what portions of your trip. Most airlines make it easy to do this as part of the reservation process. Otherwise, you can call the airline’s customer support number and request the wheelchair.
If you have connecting flights at other airports prior to arriving at your destination, you can request that a wheelchair and attendant be waiting for you to take you to your connecting gate when you disembark. They can even take you to your ground transportation upon arrival at your destination or to baggage claim and then on to your car upon your return.
If you choose wheelchair assistance for any part of your trip, make sure that you keep some cash on hand to tip your wheelchair attendant. They will appreciate it. While there are no hard and fast rules regarding the tip amount, consider how far the attendant has taken you when deciding upon your tip.
Depending upon what assistance you require in getting through the airport, getting through security might require some planning. If you use your Motivo Tour, know that when you get to security, the Tour will have to be inspected by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel. The Tour should fit through the X-ray machine when it is folded, along with your other carry-on items. However, if you would prefer not to send it through the X-ray machine, or if you find that it simply does not fit, you can ask a member of the TSA to inspect it by hand.
If you are unable to walk through the metal detectors and other imaging equipment without the use of a walker or wheelchair, the TSA can give you a manual pat down. The website WheelchairTravel.org has some excellent advice for making this an efficient and positive experience. For example, you should not have to submit to a pat down by a member of the opposite sex, and the TSA should not require you to remove any clothing that will reveal sensitive areas of your body. If you would prefer not to be patted down in front of other travelers, you can request a private screening, as well.
Another reason to ask for a pat down or a private screening is in the case of artificial joints or other medical implants. According to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS), many types of artificial hips and knees will set off metal detectors. The TSA recommends notifying them of any artificial joints or medical implants at the security checkpoint. For additional discretion, the TSA has a disability notification card available for download that you can quietly pass to TSA personnel regarding your condition.
Regardless of how you choose to go through the airport, the best advice is to let the TSA know about anything that might cause you or them concern during the security screening process.
Finally, if you require help boarding your flight, let your airline know. If you request a wheelchair, many airlines will ask if you need the wheelchair to board your flight. Many walkers and rollators are compact enough to fit in many airport overhead compartments. Talk to the gate agent to confirm it will fit. If they won’t, you should be able to gate check your mobility device, in which case it will be waiting for you when you disembark the plane.
Looking to travel to cities that excel in accessibility? Check out our blog post on the most accessible cities around the world.