Foreign travel for disabled people
Advice for disabled travellers preparing for travelling abroad
People with a physical or mental disability can find overseas travel challenging. This guide is intended to provide disabled travellers and their companions with the information needed before and during travel to ensure a trouble-free trip. This information is also available in pdf format.
Book a holiday
Take into account considerations depending on your circumstances and disabilities:
- ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that is appropriate to your needs
- research your destination and the facilities that are available, such as ease of access and transport options
- consult widely including good guidebooks, disability organisations in the UK, the embassy or high commission of the country you plan to visit, specialist tour operations and tourist boards
- check our travel advice by country before you travel and while you’re there
- when contacting holiday providers, airlines, hotels etc, clearly state your needs and what assistance you require - just telling people you have a particular disability doesn’t mean that they will understand your needs, so clearly explain them
- you might find it helpful to use a standard form: the Association of British Travel Agents provides a Checklist for Disabled and Less Mobile Passengers
- confirm enquiries, bookings and reservations in writing
- double check all arrangements before departure
- discuss your preferred means of communication with the travel organiser, for example information in large print or Braille
Health and medication
Anyone travelling within the European Economic Area or Switzerland should also get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). You can apply for an EHIC online, by phone on 0845 606 2030 or at the Post Office.
Most disabled people do not need to get medical clearance before travelling. However, some airlines may ask for evidence of fitness to travel and satisfy themselves of your ability to attend to your personal needs.
It is a good idea to carry a ‘travelling letter’, which gives a brief description of your disability or impairment and, if appropriate, details of any difficulties that could occur and what assistance you might then need.
If flying, ask your doctor if your disability or impairment makes you vulnerable to circulation problems.
If you have a medical condition, you and your doctor may need to complete a Medical Information Form (MEDIF). The form is only valid for one trip and can only be used on the flights and dates shown on your ticket.
Frequent travellers with an impairment which is a stable condition, may be able to obtain a Frequent Travellers Medical Card (FREMEC). This gives the airline a permanent record of your specific needs, so that you do not have to fill in a form and make arrangements every time you travel.
Because of increased security at airports, it’s vital you check with your airline provider what documentation you should take with you to prove the need to carry medication and in what receptacles the medicines should be carried.
It may be essential to have a letter from your doctor stating your need for the medication just in case you lose your medicine or need to get more, and particularly if you are going to a country with strict drug controls. You should always be ready to show this letter to customs officers.
If you take medication, you should ensure that you take enough with you to see you through the holiday and allow for possible delays. Always keep clearly labelled medication and any medical documents in your hand luggage or in a place you can get to them easily.
The medication you take may contain ingredients which are illegal in some countries. To find out more about any restrictions check with the nearest Embassy or High Commission of the country you are visiting.
If you have diabetes and are on medication or have a dietary restriction, you and your doctor should work out an individual schedule for meal times, taking into account the length of your journey and change in time zones.
Since July 2007, airlines and tour operators may not refuse to carry passengers, or to take bookings, on the basis of reduced mobility. This applies only to flights from airports in the EU.
Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 explains that a reservation or boarding can only be refused for justified safety reasons or if the boarding or transport of a person with a disability or reduced mobility is physically impossible, due to the size of the aircraft or its doors.
If the person is refused a reservation, an acceptable alternative must be offered. If boarding is refused, the person must be offered reimbursement or re-routing. Airport authorities are obliged to provide assistance without extra cost to the person concerned but it may levy a charge on all passengers.
Other provisions under this regulation came into force on 26 July 2008. These include:
- the airport authority is responsible for ensuring that the intending passenger receives the necessary assistance from designated points of arrival at the airport to the point of boarding the aircraft. There is a similar provision for passengers who are landing at an EU airport
- on flights from EU airports, airlines are obliged to provide certain services, such as the carrying of wheelchairs or guide dogs, free of charge
- both airport authorities and airlines are obliged to provide training to their staff so that those providing direct assistance to people with disabilities and reduced mobility should know how to meet their needs
- all staff working at the airport should be provided with disability equality and awareness training
It is your responsibility to make sure that the carrier and holiday provider is given all the relevant details of your requirements at all stages of the journey. So think about what kind of facilities or support you will need.
What are your needs during all parts of the journey, including at departure, while onboard, at stopovers, during transfer journeys and at destination?
Try to pre-book your seat – different transport carriers have different policies so check the terms of any pre-booking. Find out about toilet accessibility and special dietary requirements.
What assistance is available, for example at check-in, moving around the terminal, on boarding and disembarking?
What is the policy on taking an assistance dog? Are any veterinary certificates and identification required? What is the procedure for carriage of the dog? The dog may also be subject to quarantine regulations. You may be able to benefit from the Pet Travel Scheme.
What is the policy on taking any equipment you may need such as wheelchairs, portable machines, batteries, respirators or oxygen? Some airlines will not take certain types of batteries such as wet cell batteries or oxygen cylinders. There may be packing procedures to follow, you may be asked about the make and type of your equipment, and there may be forms to complete.
Be specific about your requirements – ask for whatever you need to make your stay comfortable and ask for written confirmation that they are available. Your travel agent or tour operator should be able to advise you, but you may also decide to call the hotel, resort or cruise liner directly to speak to someone who is familiar with the rooms.
You may want to think about the following:
- is there step free access to all the main areas of the hotel, resort or ship?
- are there charging facilities for electrical equipment such as a wheelchair?
- if you have mobility needs or are visually impaired, you should check on the access to public rooms, restaurants, bars, toilets, swimming pool, beach etc
- can any equipment you need be hired locally, such as back rests, bathing equipment, hoists, ramps and special mattresses? Information may be available from local disability groups at your destination
- is a lift is available and if so, will your wheelchair or other equipment fit?
Location of the bedrooms
- can you be on the ground floor if you wish, or near a suitable lift?
- do the bedroom facilities fit your needs, for example, is the door wide enough, does it open outwards or inwards?
- do the bathroom facilities fit your needs, for example, is the room large enough: is there a roll-in shower or grab-bars?
- can your dietary requirements be met?
- are there facilities for assistance dogs?
If you intend to take or hire a car, the Blue Badge Scheme now operates throughout the EU. Adapted cars are now available for hire in many countries. Make sure you know the licence requirements, driving laws and driving conditions of the country you are visiting.
When hiring a car, make sure the company is fully aware of your needs and check the level of insurance they offer – you may feel it is a good idea to extend the insurance.
If you need a taxi, try to book one in advance and state your needs. But be aware that, in many areas, accessible vehicles will not be available.
If you are visually impaired, the Royal National Institute for the Blind has produced a sign to help hail taxis. The RNIB helpline number is 030 3123 9999.
Wheelchairs and other equipment
Remember to take with you any necessary equipment such as spare inner tubes and tools, a voltage converter (check the voltage before you travel), an adaptor plug and transformer.
Wheelchair users are usually boarded on planes first, so it is essential to arrive in good time. Whatever your impairment, if you think you require additional time to make yourself comfortable, ask to be preboarded.
Wheelchair users often disembark planes last on arrival.
Wheelchair users will be asked to transfer to another chair so that their own wheelchair can be loaded onto the plane.
If your wheelchair is anything other than a standard specification, make sure you ask the crew for it to be made available at the door on arrival - the airline may otherwise choose to meet you with one of the airport operator’s wheelchair.
To avoid loss or damage, remove seat cushions and any other parts that could easily become separated from the chair, and take these items with you.
Attach instructions to scooters or power chairs, saying how and where to disconnect the batteries, and any other dis/assembly or transportation instructions that might be necessary. This is important because, even if you give handlers instructions at the start of your journey, you may not be able to do the same with the handlers when you arrive.
- Access to Air Travel for Disabled People
- Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA)
- The Blue Badge Scheme
- Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee - advises the government on access for disabled people to transport and website has lots of info on all aspects of travel.
- Guide Dogs UK
- IAM Blue Badge Scheme in Europe - provides information on parking in Europe
- Jumbulance - an unwell and disabled travel charity to help severely disabled and unwell adults, children and dependent elderly persons to travel on holidays and day outings
- Parkat - advice and information for disabled and mobility restricted passengers travelling through UK Airports
- Royal National Institute for the Blind
- Tourism for All - provdes information fact sheets about travel with the UK and oversaeas