As the world starts to travel again, it’s time to get excited to air travel with your rollator! But for some, travelling with mobility devices like walkers, rollators or wheelchairs, airports can be daunting. The stretch between customs and gates much further than your usual daily walk. With that in mind, here are a few tips for navigating your local airport with a rollator or wheelchair.
Find out about services and reach out to your airline
Visit your local airport’s website to find out about its accessibility features. At Canada’s largest airport, Pearson International in Toronto links the Accessibility page to the front page. A sign that airport takes accessibility seriously. Their first piece of advice is to contact your airline at least 48 hours in advance to let them know about your needs. You’ll also want to find out:
- How to access the airport’s in-terminal shuttle service (those little golf carts you’ve seen zooming along the terminals).
- How to bring your rollator, walker or wheelchair on board. If your rollators or walker can fold up and you may be able to bring it as a carry-on. If not, then ask if you can gate-check it, meaning that you hand it over just as you get on the plane so that you can use it through the airport.
- What the procedure is to move through security checks so you can prepare. Either way, confirming your options before you go to the airport will make you feel confident.
When you’re talking to your airline, ask for the bulkhead seat so you have extra leg room, or a seat near the front so you don’t have too far to walk to board and deplane. You might also explore the options for business class, which tends to have more room too.
The Pearson accessibility page also contains links to other features at the airport, including accessible washrooms, how to arrange for wheelchair assistance (which is handled by airlines so you need to connect with them) and where to find charging stations for electric wheelchairs. There are also apps for the visually impaired, people with autism, and a hearing loop sound system for those with hearing aids or cochlear implants. The airport also offers:
- Pet relief areas for service animals
- A LanguageLine service for people whose English is limited
- Sunflower lanyards for people with an invisible disability to identify themselves if they need extra help.
Consider your own needs as you plan to air travel with your rollator
Be realistic about moving through the airport. It’s a big place and can be overwhelming. Bring what you need to be comfortable. Considerations might include:
- Dressing in layers.
- Carrying comfort items with you such as a bottle for water (noting that because customs still prohibits water carried in so you can just fill on the other side).
- A snack and your emergency medications.
- If you have accessories for your rollator, make sure you carry the ones you need with you. Label them with your name and phone number just in case (same thing for the rollator/walker itself).
Figure out how you’ll get to and from the airport, whether you will have friends or family dropping you off or you’re taking a taxi. Ask your airline personnel about the best place to drop off to minimize walking.
Plan your route through the airport: from where you’ll be dropped off to where you’ll wait for your plane. Definitely take a look at your airport’s shuttle offering to find out what the pickup points look like. Even if you are a rollator user, consider booking wheelchair transportation with your airline – remember, you’re trying to conserve your energy and the travel may tire you out more than usual.
The day of your flight
On the day of your flight, give yourself more time than you need at the airport. If standard times these days are three hours for international flights and two hours for domestic, maybe add an hour on to that. Or ask your airline for their recommendation when you call to make your plan. Wear comfortable shoes.
Awkward topic alert:
When you air travel with your rollator, limit your liquids that day (don’t dehydrate yourself, obviously) so that ideally you don’t need to get up and go during the flight, as your rollator will not fit in the airplane washroom. Consider a cane as backup in case you need extra help in the aisles. You might also bring or wear adult disposable underwear just in case if you’re concerned.
Take advantage of the call to board early for anyone who needs extra assistance. If you get to your gate late and early boarding has already happened, you could consider waiting until everyone has boarded so you’re not caught up in a rush. Either way, identify yourself to the airline personnel at the gate so they’re aware of your needs.
Finally, pack your patience and bring a book for the long waits. If things go well, you’ll zip through the airport with all the extra assistance and be at your gate ahead of time. Which gives you more time to think about all the fun you’ll have when you’re away!