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Access to air travel - guidance for disabled and less mobile passengers

Section 8: On-board facilities

8.1: Training

All cabin crew, including the flight crew, should have received disability awareness training. You can find more information about staff training in section 3.

8.2: Seat allocation

You should be able to pre-book a seat if you are concerned that you need a specific seat because of your disability. You can find more information about pre-booking seats in sections 4.2.2 and 4.4.4.

If you have not pre-booked a seat, the staff at check-in will have tried to give you the most suitable seat available and let the cabin crew know why you need this seat.

Once you have been given an appropriate seat, you should not have to move except on grounds of safety, for example if you have been given a seat in the emergency aisle.

8.3: Cabin crew

The limited space inside a plane cabin makes doing things a lot more difficult. Everyday tasks that are usually quite easy can become impossible without room to move properly.

The cabin crew will be able to assist you with most of these problems, such as stowing and retrieving hand luggage and mobility aids in the overhead lockers.

They should know if you have pre-booked any assistance, and will tell you about any facilities on the plane designed for disabled passengers.

If you are visually impaired, they should also tell you more general information about the plane, its services and facilities. Do not be afraid to ask if you need assistance. For example, if you are visually impaired they will be able to read the dinner menu or describe what is available from the on-board shopping service.

If you need assistance to reach the toilet, cabin crew can push the on-board wheelchair or offer general support, but they are not allowed to lift passengers or to assist with toiletting.

The cabin crew should also check at intervals during the flight, to see whether help is needed.

8.4: Information and emergency instructions

When travelling by air, it is important that you know about safety and what to do if there is an emergency. You will be given lots of information about what you can and can not do - for example, you are not allowed to smoke on most planes.

These instructions may be different on different airlines, but they should all be accessible to people with a visual, hearing or learning disability.

Airlines use lots of different ways to pass on this information:

Safety Cards: these are usually large print with simple instructions and easy to follow pictures.

Videos: these should have an audio commentary and subtitles. They will often use a BSL interpreter as well.

Announcements: passengers using hearing aids should be able to use the 'T' switch on their hearing aids.

Staff demonstrations: if you have a visual, hearing or learning disability, let the cabin crew know where you are so that they can give you a personal briefing and keep you up to date.

If you find it difficult, for any reason, to understand the information given, you should ask a cabin crew member to explain it to you or to provide the information in a different way.

All the safety information should be available in alternative formats such as Braille, large print and with easy to follow pictures for people with learning disabilities.

8.5: Entertainment

Most planes have some kind of in-flight entertainment such as radio or videos. You should be able you use the 'T' switch on your hearing aid to listen to these programmes.

As technology improves, you will be able to get subtitles and audio description for films and other programmes on new planes.

8.6: Catering

Food on planes must be served in sealed packages because of strict Health and Safety regulations. These packages should be easy to open and 'user-friendly', but in the limited space of a plane seat, they can still be very difficult to open. Cabin crew will open the packaging and help to cut food if asked to do so, but they will not be able to feed anybody.

They will also describe the food and its layout on the tray to visually impaired passengers.

8.7: Assistance dogs

Travelling by air will be a new experience for most assistance dogs, so you should think carefully about how they will react.

If the dog is allowed to travel in the cabin with you, it will probably be at your feet. During a long flight, even a well-trained dog may get uncomfortable and restless.

You should always talk to your vet and discuss any concerns with the relevant training organisation, such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, before you make a decision.


You can find more information about travelling by air with an assistance dog in section 4.4.8 and section 6.3.6.

8.8: Toilet arrangements

Toilets on planes are difficult to use for everybody as they are very small and cramped and there might be a lot of movement of the plane.

Many planes do not have toilets that are accessible to disabled people, especially wheelchair users and many other ambulant disabled people.

You will need to plan ahead and might need to prepare yourself or make other arrangements. You will know what is the best method for your own needs.

If you are concerned or want more advice, the Disabled Living Foundation have a booklet called 'Flying High' which gives practical hints about personal toilet arrangements on long flights.

Details of other useful publications and organisations are given in Annex 1 and Annex 2.

8.9: Oxygen

If you need oxygen on the flight, you must let the airline know when you book, as they will have to make special arrangements.

If you suddenly need extra oxygen during the flight, you will be able to use the emergency oxygen supply.

You can find more information about using oxygen on the plane in section 4.4.12.

8.10: Artificial limbs

Sitting in a pressurised cabin for a long time can make your ankles, feet and joints swell. If you take off a prosthesis during the flight to be more comfortable, you may find that that it is very difficult to get it back on, especially in the limited space of a plane seat.

You should always ask your doctor for advice before you fly.

8.11: Circulatory problems

Always ask your doctor for advice if you are concerned that your disability makes you vulnerable to circulation problems or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

If you are sitting down for a long time, you should flex or move your legs and feet or try to move around the plane if at all possible. Comfortable shoes, support stockings and an aspirin may also help.