Blind Travel – Stress Free Flying

by Jeffrey Stark

May 30th, 2012

I travel a fair bit. Sometimes for work, sometimes to participate in a working group or non-profit's event and sometimes for my own entertainment. This is the first of what will hopefully become a regular travel posting. I'm going to use this blog to share with you some tips, suggestions and advice from a veteran on travelling as a person who is blind or has low vision. I have to also acknowledge that both my parents are blind and I garnered a lot of experience by travelling with them. We went to many places when I was young and you can read about some of them here: at the travel section of abilities magasine.

The first topic I intend to cover is on Airlines and travel as a blind person.

I have travelled on my own a number of times and it is completely do-able and can be a relatively low stress activity if you go into it prepared. You have to speak up for what you want, need and when someone is doing something you don’t want or agree to. This is the first step to stress free travel. I used to be far less assertive and had a far less pleasant or enjoyable trip.

Ground assistance is most important thing to ask for. You identify that you need ground assistance to the airline or travel agency. Let them know that you are blind and that you do not need a wheelchair but will require sighted assistance travelling throughout the airport. When you arrive at the airport, make sure you verify at the check-in counter that they have your ground assistance on file for this flight and any connecting flights. The airline staff will provide sighted assistance from the entrance to check in, from check-in to the security area, from the security area to your gate and from the gate to the plane. They will also provide assistance from the plane to any connecting flight or to the baggage area and to the various exits of the airport. If you need to, don’t forget to ask if they can stop at a store, restroom or restaurant to pick something up at any time during this process.

As you enter the aircraft make sure you talk to the purser or "in charge" for the flight. Identify yourself as someone who is blind and highlight that airline attendants should make their presence known to you during the flight, especially for beverage or other in-flight services. I find this can be especially important if you are seated on the inside seat as it will be easy to be overlooked by airline staff and it is easy to not notice when the beverage cart or food service is passing by. When you arrive, 9 times out of 10 you will find that the person assigned to provide ground assistance has decided to bring a wheelchair with them. It is perfectly ok to refuse the wheelchair, even if the service provider seems insistent. It is also perfectly ok to ask them to leave the wheelchair at the gate if it obstructs your ability to grab their arm or receive proper guiding from them.

If you run into trouble along the way or something happens, you should be aware that most airlines are required to have a CRO – Complaint Resolution Official. I have found that simply asking to speak with the CRO can often resolve an issue. For example, once when travelling on work, I had a flight cancellation. The airline wished to separate me from the person I was travelling with. This would have left me travelling completely without assistance and without a travel option when I arrived at my destination city. The airline staff was not willing to put us on the same flight. As soon as I asked to speak with the CRO, this was no longer the case. We were found a connecting flight that would allow us to stay together. If you run into a situation where you are not being properly accommodated ask one of airport agents to put you in contact with a Complaint Resolution Official (CRO) for assistance. Most CROs are available by phone at all airport locations, at no cost.

Hopefully this has given you a few useful suggestions on how to have the most stress free trip when travelling as a blind person. Do you have any tips or suggestions for airline travel? Please share them with us in the comments below:

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