ADVERTISEMENT

Traveling With a Disability: What You Need to Know

By Liza Weisstuch
September 29, 2021
Woman in wheel chair on boardwalk
Igor Akimov/Dreamstime
From shrinking airplane bathrooms to public transportation, disabled travelers face added layers of stress on the road.

Consumer Affairs recently reported that the Government Accountability Office, an independent federal watchdog agency, found that in the air travel industry, disability-related complaints doubled from 2005 to 2015, topping out at more 30,000 complaints for the most recent year that data was available. The situation for disabled travelers is never simple, but with growing public awareness and activists working for change, the future might hold and easier trip for everyone.

Shrinking aircrafts, growing problems

In airlines’ efforts to pack more passengers into each flight, one thing that’s been sacrificed is bathroom space. In the newer model planes that are flown by Delta, United, and American, bathrooms in coach are a meager 24 inches wide. While it’s a struggle for tall or obese people, the task of squeezing into such a compact space can be even more difficult for someone with a physical disability. But according to the aircraft manufacturer, the smaller restroom accommodates six more passenger seats. And that’s to say nothing of shrinking seats and less aisle space in newer-model jets.

Disabled passengers’ complaints on the rise

Maneuvering an aircraft is only one challenge that physically disabled travelers face. In addition to structural and design limitations, there are plenty of other issues that can be a hassle, if not a nightmare, for people with limited mobility. Earlier in November, Consumer Affairs reported that “customers with disabilities say that they are regularly mistreated during air travel, with one of the more common problems being airline staff that lose or break their personal wheelchairs—leaving passengers who can’t walk completely stranded and without a medical device worth thousands of dollars.” This is especially problematic because unlike lost or mishandled luggage, there are no reporting requirements under federal law for wheelchair damage. But being prepared can lead to a speedier solution should the worst case scenario come to fruition. The Department of Transportation recommends taking a photograph of your wheelchair or assistance device ahead of travel to capture its condition and providing written instructions detailing the disassembly, assembly, and stowage of your device.

The federal government’s protections

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, a disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that impacts a major life activity—such as walking, hearing, or breathing.” This applies to temporary disabilities, like a broken leg, as well as permanent ones. The DOT is responsible for enforcing the Air Carrier Access Act, the federal law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. Airlines are required to provide disabled passengers with various means of assistance, like wheelchairs or other guided help to board, deplane, or connect to another flight. They must also offer seating-accommodation assistance that meets passengers’ individual needs and help with loading and stowing assistive devices.

Further protections could be coming down the line. In 2016, the Obama administration said that by 2018, all US airlines would be required “to report on how often they mishandle wheelchairs so air travelers with disabilities can easily compare carriers and make informed travel decisions.” After initial agreement from the airline industry, companies requested the new rules be put on hold under the new administration.

Advice from disabled travelers

When it comes to planning a trip, accessibility concerns are first and foremost, from hotels and tourist attractions to public transportation and taxis. In interviews recently published by Healthline, a health and wellness website, disabled influencers offered their recommendations for dealing with travel’s many challenges. Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant, writer and activist who founded Ramp Your Voice (rampyourvoice.com), an organization focused on empowerment, notes that when planning a trip, she double-checks her flight reservation days before she flies to make sure her wheelchair use is noted, and she makes it a priority to figure out public transit and airport transfers ahead of time. Cory Lee Woodard, a prolific blogger (curbfreewithcorylee.com), notes that taking direct flights reduces the risk of his wheelchair being damaged. Australia-based blogger Stacey Christie (lovemoxieblog.com) says the best way for disabled passengers to negotiate travel challenges is via personal advice from the many disabled travel blogs on the web. Her own site is a great place to start.

CLUB DISCOUNTS

Save up to 50% on Hotels

1 rooms, 1 guests
ADVERTISEMENT
Keep reading
Travel TipsProduct Reviews

Stylish Steals for the Polished Traveler

You've seen them at the airport and at the train station; you may know them personally, or you might even be one of them yourself—those people who practically float through the terminal, not a hair out of place or a bead of sweat in sight. The secret to such serenity? Having the right tools for the job, and our picks will do the trick. 1. A Trusty Sidekick (Courtesy Away) Still trying to make it to your gate while lugging a bulky bag and pulling an unwieldy rollaboard? Streamline your approach with Away's trim, handsomely designed tote. Equally appropriate as an under-seat personal item and a weekend-trip carry-all, it has a pocket for everything—laptop, tablet, phone, notebooks, pens, even a wet umbrella—but the external sleeve that slides over your suitcase handle and lets you wheel the two together is the real game-changer. When used on its own, the handles are sturdy and amply padded, and there’s a removable crossbody strap for hands-free shlepping. We like it in the sturdy, water-resistant nylon, but if you’re really looking to splurge, the limited-edition leather versions receive rave reviews too.The Everywhere Bag, from $195; awaytravel.com. 2. An Optical Illusion (Courtesy Spanx) When you’re on the go, leggings are one of the most comfortable things you can put on your body; the downside, of course, is that they rarely look as good as they feel. This faux-leather pair from Spanx will give your travel-day outfit a stylish upgrade: They’re effortless and form-fitting, as leggings should be, but the matte finish makes them look like the real-leather deal, with a gentle sheen instead of the bright, cheap-looking glare of other synthetic fabrics. And not for nothing, the brand best known for its shapewear has a way with spandex. Here, the natural waistband contours and supports for a smooth silhouette, so you’ll seem pulled together, even on the laziest day.Faux leather leggings, from $98; spanx.com. 3. A Versatile Cover-up (Courtesy prAna)Pair your swank new leggings with another travel-day essential: a light, slouchy, easy on-and-off layer that’ll let you breeze through security and keep you cozy in transit. With its loose fit, deep, angled pockets, and stretchy, wrinkle-resistant modal fabric, prAna’s soft, dolman-sleeve cardigan does just that. Stash one in your daypack in case the air-conditioning kicks in or the weather shifts, and you'll be well prepared for frigid temps.Foundation Wrap, $69; prana.com. 4. A Magic Hat (Courtesy Goorin Bros.) Tossing and turning on that overnight flight is bad enough; you shouldn’t have to deal with a wild ‘do on top of a lack of sleep. This trilby-style fedora from Goorin Bros. lets you roll off the plane without giving your hair a second thought: It folds to take up minimal space in your bag and pops back into shape remarkably well, its paper-straw construction and moisture-wicking sweatband combine to keep you from overheating, and its striped-grosgrain ribbon adds a chic touch. And while the straw might lend it a warm-weather vibe, the neutral color palette means it’ll pair with pretty much anything, so it won’t be one of those things you pack and never wear.Keep It Real hat, $50; goorin.com. 5. A Makeup Must-Have (Courtesy Sephora) If you have an extensive skincare regimen or makeup routine, this Sephora Collection organizer is the solution to your packing needs. With elastic loops for your brushes, two removable, vinyl-lined storage cubes for your products, and a flat zippered pouch (also removable), for your toiletries, it’ll hold everything you need for your journey, and you won’t find yourself rummaging around in a bottomless Dopp kit once you hit the hotel bathroom, either. Pro tip: If you’re flying, use the pouch for your liquids and carry it separately, popping it back into the case after you’ve cleared the scanners.Pack It All Organizer, $45; sephora.com. 6. A Clean Sweep (Courtesy RECESS)Feeling less than fresh in flight? This travel kit from Recess comes with an assortment of individually packaged, biodegradable wipes that’ll let you leave your toiletry case in the overhead bin. Try the witch hazel–based face wipes, laced with soothing green-tea extract and revitalizing green-apple extract, to knock out bacteria; the anti-inflammatory aloe wipes to moisturize and heal; and the tea-tree-oil deodorant wipes to knock out nasty odors. They’re all non-comedogenic, so they won’t clog pores, and they’re free of sulfates, parabens, artificial fragrances, and a whole slew of other bad-news ingredients, so you’ll feel safe using them—and won’t offend your fellow passengers in the process.Kit 301: Travel Kit, $26; myrecess.co. 7. A Reliable Rinse (Courtesy the Laundress)Dressing in head-to-toe black is one way of disguising unsightly spills and stains, but to avoid such embarrassments entirely, pack a provisional laundry kit in case of sartorial emergencies. This set from the Laundress includes two-ounce bottles of wrinkle-releasing solution, fabric freshener, and a static-zapping spray, as well as stain packets that work wonders on tannin-heavy substances like coffee and red wine, and a semi-miraculous bar of soap that can be used to pretreat and hand-wash anything that needs it. Why pay to send your delicates out when you can take care of them yourself?On the Spot kit, $31; thelaundress.com.8. A Real Eye-Opener (Courtesy Thrive)Sure, you could use Thrive’s cushy, oversized eye mask en route to your destination, though it’s a bit heavier and bulkier than the ones we normally recommend. But we’ve found that it’s most effective as a recovery tool once you’ve touched down, thanks to its massaging gel beads and hot/cold capabilities. Throw it in your hotel-room microwave and heat it up to treat symptoms of travel stress like headaches, sinus pain, and even soreness from tight shoulders or clenched jaws, or stick it in the freezer for cool relief for puffy, bloodshot eyes. Regardless, it's a soothing, non-prescription restorative for what ails you.Hot/cold eye mask with gel beads, $13; amazon.com. 9. A Tiny Treasury (Courtesy UncommonGoods.com)Don’t fancy sporting the same neckwear each day you’re away? Pack a variety of ties and keep them wrinkle-free with this tidy cylindrical case from UncommonGoods. The vegan-leather caddy holds three at a time, and it’s a mere four-by-three-by-three inches in size, so you won’t sacrifice space in your bag to do so. Grab one for yourself, and gift one to your favorite fashion plate.The Necktie Travel Roll, $24; uncommongoods.com.

Travel Tips

The Budget Travel Guide to Flying

Every day approximately 2,661,000 passengers fly in and out of U.S. airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Some people love to fly; others hate it. Case in point: Americans skipped 32 million trips in 2016 because they hate flying, a U.S. Travel Association survey found. But regardless of how you feel about being cruising in the air, there are certain things you should know before planning your next flight. Here, we present the Budget Travel Guide to Flying, a breakdown of how to buy cheap tickets, pack efficiently, speed through security, observe onboard etiquette, retrieve checked luggage efficiently. 1. How to Book a Cheap Flight If you’re watching your bottom line, you might be wondering what the best day is to hit the “buy” button. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney says the best time book is Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m., but the 2018 Air Travel Outlook Report from Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which examined billions of data points to identify travel patterns, said it’s cheapest to buy economy flights (both international and domestic) on Sunday. Meanwhile, the most recent CheapAir.com Annual Airfare Study looked at 921 million airfares from 2.9 million trips and found negligible cost differentials from day to day, with average lowest fares within $2 of each other—a change of less than 0.6 percent. The good news? Though you might not be able to predict price drops by day of the week, if you pay attention to the calendar, you should be able to find bargains. Look at the research and you’ll see there’s a consensus: travelers typically get the best prices by booking flights at least three weeks in advance. Indeed, CheapAir.com recommends booking within a window of 21 to 105 days ahead, depending on the season, with a domestic-flight sweet spot of 54 days before departure. The Expedia/ARC report also pushes for a long lead time, recommending that bargain-minded economy travelers book 30-plus days in advance for the lowest ATPs, and Skyscanner suggests a 21-day cut-off as well. 2. How to Pack Light U.S.-based airlines collected a record-breaking $4.5 billion in baggage fees in 2017. Of course, one way to avoid getting hit with a baggage fee is to only bring a carry-on bag, since most airlines still let you bring at least one carry-on bag for free. But, if you’re the type of person who tends to over-pack, you’ll need to make some adjustments in order to consolidate all your stuff. We recommend our expert packing tips from Hudson + Bleecker founder Eram Siddiqui. 3. How to Sail Through Security One of the quickest and easiest ways to speed through airport security: get TSA PreCheck (tsa.gov). For $85, a five-year PreCheck status can speed you through airline check-in and security even on peak days at busy airports (there are more than 450 PreCheck lanes at more than 200 U.S. airports). Frequent international air travelers may want to consider getting Global Entry (cbp.gov) instead; for $100, you can skip the line at Customs when returning to the U.S. through automatic kiosks at select airports. Another way to get through security faster? Review the TSA Prohibited Items to avoid getting your bag stopped at the X-ray belt. Pro tip: if you’re concerned about items not listed, simply send a question to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter. 4. How to Follow Onboard Etiquette Flying can be stressful, but there are ways to keep calm at 36,000 feet—and ensure that others around you do the same. Here are some basic rules to follow: Don’t recline in economy. Coach is tight enough as-is. The average “seat pitch”—the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat directly in front of it—has decreased from 35 inches in the late 1960s to 31 inches today, and on some airlines has been reduced to 28 inches. The morale: by not reclining, you’re being conscientious of the passenger sitting behind you. The middle seat passenger gets the armrests. The middle seat debate over who is entitled to the center armrests has been waging for decades. However, proper social etiquette says the person in the middle seat is entitled to both armrests. Australia-based airline Jetstar, in fact, recently created a policy that declared both armrests are made for the middle seat passenger. Shoes can come off—socks stay on. In a recent British Airways survey, 59% of flyers said they think it’s OK for passengers to remove their shoes on a plane, but an overwhelming 87% said removing your socks is a no-no.5. How to Retrieve Your Luggage (and Deal With Lost Bags) Want to efficiently pick up your checked bags? Don’t hog the belt in baggage claim. Leave about 3 feet of space between you and the belt so that other passengers can collect their luggage without pushing you aside. Concerned about lost luggage? Don’t worry: statistically, just two or three out of every 1,000 travelers' bags will be lost or damaged, one LuggageHero survey found. But if you’re one of the unlucky few to have your luggage go MIA, file a report with the airline immediately, while you’re still at the airport. Don’t leave the airport until you have a copy for your personal records. You should get your money back for any fees paid to check a bag that goes missing, but you’ll probably have to advocate for a refund, so be prepared to make your case.

Travel Tips

6 Items That Will Help You Meet Your 2019 Goals

New year, new you—if only it were that simple. Resolutions are definitely easier to make than they are to keep, but we’ve found a few items that'll keep you on track, whether you’re packing a lunch to save money for upcoming adventures or trying to stick to a new routine while you’re on the road. 1. Plan Your Year (Courtesy ban.do) If you’re a Budget Travel reader, the odds are good that you’ve got trip-planning on the brain. Get excited for your upcoming travel with this super-cute analog organizer: With sections dedicated to dream destinations (think: cities to see, people to visit, food to try), plus packing lists, postcards, and stickers galore, you can sketch out the next few years with your own personal flair. Paradiso travel planner, $30; bando.com. 2. No More Hangovers (Courtesy Flyby) Did you wake up on New Year’s Day with a pounding head and swear, "Never again?" Next time, be prepared for a big night out: This liver-friendly supplement, rich with vitamin B, milk thistle, ginseng, and more, just might help you recover. Each little packet contains three capsules, so stash a few in your Dopp kit and order another round. Recovery supplements, $20; flyby.co. 3. Drink More Water (Courtesy OtterBox) Proper hydration can be a challenge when you’re on the move, so a serious drinking vessel is a must-have. This hefty 20-ounce tumbler boasts a copper lining that maintains cold temps for hours at a time, and its sweat-resistant design will keep things mess-free. Pair it with the straw lid for an additional $10, and leave it in your car for easy sipping on the road. Elevation 20 Tumbler, $30; otterbox.com. 4. Pack Your Lunch (Courtesy monbento) Packing a midday meal is a tried-and-true way to save a few bucks, but let’s be honest: It’s much less fun than eating out every day. Package it properly, though, and you’ll hardly miss the restaurants. This one is airtight and roomy, with two stackable, BPA-free compartments and an elastic band to keep everything in place. MB Original Porcelaine, $28 (discounted through 2/1/19; regularly $40); monbento.com. 5. Clean Up Your Act (Courtesy GO SMILE) If investing in self-care—and taking better selfies—is on your list, stash a set of these travel-friendly stain erasers in your bag for quick cleanup on the go, especially if you’re not planning on cutting out coffee or red wine anytime soon. (Hey, you can only do so much.) With cleaner teeth and fresher breath, you’ll improve your dental hygiene and cop a brighter smile. So go ahead, flash those pearly whites for the camera.GO SMILE Stain Erasers, from $14 for 14; ulta.com. 6. Focus Your Intentions (Courtesy Penguin Random House) Having goals is all well and good, but implementing them is what really counts. Get your thoughts in order and put your ambitions into practice with The Bullet Journal Method, a system devised by author Ryder Carroll that focuses on living intentionally. With a mission of encouraging readers “become mindful about how we spend our two most valuable resources in life: our time and our energy,” the method aims to help you accomplish more by concentrating on what’s important and paring back on the rest. Map out the next 12 months and learn new techniques for working through your to-do list, and by the time December rolls around, you’ll be sitting pretty.The Bullet Journal Method, $26; amazon.com.

Travel Tips

How to Fly With Just a Carry-On

In an era of airline cutbacks, overbooked flights, and delays, delays, delays, there’s a long list of reasons why traveling with only a carry-on is preferable to checking a bag: Your luggage stays in your sight, so there's less risk of loss or damage; you won’t have to jump through hoops to retrieve your belongings if you miss your connection and get stranded overnight; it’s less expensive (no checked-bag fees!); and you'll save the time otherwise spent at baggage claim. Of course, if you’re a food and beverage connoisseur, you may find yourself checking a bag full of goodies for your return leg, but whether you’re aiming to avoid overweight baggage charges or keep your gear close at hand in the overhead bin, our tips will have you zipping through those security scanners in no time. 1. Prepare to Rewear First things first: Check the weather where you’re headed, count the number of days you’ll be away, and tally up how many outfits you’ll need. Will you be doing a lot of walking, hiking, or working out? Will you have to change into something nice for dinner? Does your hotel have a pool? Pack twice as many pairs of underwear and socks as you think you’ll need, and plan to mix and match a capsule collection of basics for everything else. Undergarments aside, you can rewear pretty much anything at least twice, especially if you manage to avoid spills and stains. (A travel-size laundry kit will help if you’re accident-prone.) Shoes and bulky top layers take up the most space, so pick a few items you absolutely have to have and work around them; some hotels will provide workout gear, including sneakers, for a nominal fee, so do your research before you leave. Wear the things that take up the most space on the plane, and always, always pack a swimsuit. You just never know. 2. Pick the Proper Personal Item If you’re traveling in basic economy, you probably won't have the luxury of overhead-bin space, and your carry-on will have to fit under the seat in front of you. In that case, we recommend a slim backpack with a 24-liter capacity or less—Cotopaxi’s Nazca pack and Timbuk2’s Never Check Expandable pack are both good options. If you're a light packer, a sleek little underseater is all you need, and Delsey makes a nice one. If you’re in plain old economy class, though, you can stash your rollaboard overhead and use your personal item as another packing tool. Pro-tip: Stash toiletries at the top of your bag where you can easily pull them out for screening, and group food items together so you won’t have to repack completely if and when those organic materials trigger the scanner. 3. Don’t Sweat the Liquids Rule Technically, the TSA’s 3-1-1 mandate—as many 3.4-ounce bottles as you can fit in a clear, plastic, quart-sized bag—is still in place, but you can usually get by with keeping your liquids in a regular Dopp kit or toiletries bag instead of a ziplock, as long as the bottles themselves aren’t larger than the prescribed 3.4-ounce volume. If you’re attached to your daily routine, decant large bottles of product into smaller travel-sized ones, or pick up what you need once you land; if you’re not, rely on your hotel or Airbnb to provide passable alternatives for the length of your stay. To streamline your kit even further, consider solid perfumes and facial bar soaps or wipes instead of liquid versions. 4. Shop Accordingly on the Ground It’s hard to resist a good souvenir shop, and honestly, you shouldn’t have to—mementos are a great way to remind you of experiences and adventures past. We highly recommend bringing at least one reusable, packable bag for the treasures you pick up on the road, and/or traveling with enough room in your suitcase to accommodate potential purchases. (We know of at least one shopaholic who carries a mostly empty suitcase for just that reason). If space is at a premium and you can’t cram anything else into your carry-on, plenty of stores will ship purchases back for you; if you’re going big and your suitcase is exceptionally heavy, sending it home with a mailing service like Luggage Free instead of paying the airlines’ overweight baggage fees may make more sense. Just be sure to run the numbers before you buy out the store, as costs vary based on where you’re going and what carrier you’re flying with.