Flying solo visually impaired

Are you visually impaired or blind and planning a solo airline flight?  The thought of finding your way to the correct departure gate can be daunting, so let’s talk about some tips that can make your next airborne adventure smoother from the time you check in.

Asking for help

The toughest part of a trip can be getting up the nerve to ask for help from the airport staff. While it can be embarrassing, remember that the airlines employ staff specifically to aid passengers in navigating the airport. There is nothing wrong with asking for help getting to your gate, baggage claim or other destination in the terminal, remember they are there to help.

Checking in

This is where it all starts, often if you can find your way to the check in counter, the airline staff will do the rest. When you check in for your flight, let the person helping you know that you are visually impaired (don’t assume they know, even if you are carrying a white cane or using a guide dog) and ask for assistance to the gate. Be aware that airlines can be short staffed, especially if you are checking in for your flight early in the morning or late at night, so be sure to arrive early enough for your flight that you will not be in a panic to get to the gate on time. If the staff are assisting other passengers to their gates, you may have to wait your turn.

When checking in, I always ask if they can have someone meet me at the destination gate, so I don’t have to ask for help twice. Often, the person will have a wheelchair ready for you when you walk down the ramp after exiting the plane. Be aware that sometime airlines will ask you to check in with the gate agent before boarding the flight, this way they know you made it to the flight on time and will radio ahead for assistance when you deplane.

Taking a ride

Quite often, airport staff will utilize either a wheelchair or golf cart to get you to your gate quickly and effectively. Don’t struggle with this point, even if you are not comfortable riding in a wheelchair. The transportation is not usually about you, it is for the convenience of the airline staff. Often airports have protocols in place for transporting passengers to their gates, so just go with the plan they put in place for you.  The airline staff don’t know how quickly you are capable of walking, so a wheelchair or golf cart can allow them to transport you to the gate then get back quickly to assist the next passenger to their gate. They will also often walk you through the frequent traveler line for TSA check, making the whole process go even quicker for you. Don’t complain or question, just sit back and enjoy the ride.  

As you are traveling to your gate, always remember to ask about the location of the nearest restroom for your gate in case you need to go before your flight. I always inquire about nearby food options, and the location of the pet relieving area if I am traveling with my guide dog.  

When you arrive at your destination, the person helping you will usually ask where you want to go. If you have baggage and they will be leaving you there, be sure to ask about the location of the shuttles or uber/taxi lines so you know where to head after you have retrieved your belongings.

Pay it forward

I usually tip the person taking me to my gate. You don’t have to, but I always choose to pay it forward and tip for their time. Some will not accept the tip while others are very grateful. I always appreciate the time they spend, especially if they are making it quicker to navigate TSA lines.

Be courteous

Things can go wrong, people can have a bad day, so remember to be courteous, patient, and appreciative for the help you are given. If you must wait for a long time for your turn to get to your gate, or it takes longer than anticipated to navigate the way to your gate, take it all in stride.

Before you go…

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