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by Jay Stiteley []

  1. Planning the trip
    1. Determine if you can reach the destination by plane, train, or bus in equivalent amount of time and expense.  (It's okay to inquire about disability related discounts)
      1. If a plane trip is one hour or less, plan approximately three hours between lead time at the airport (90 minutes, if checking bags), then 20-30 minutes for baggage to be off loaded and receive it, hence, three hours.
      2. Non-stop flights are just that, direct flight means that there is a stop, no change of plane, connection means that a change of planes will happen.
      3. Three hours between destinations on a bus or train may be much less expensive, plus they dont require the Saturday night stay for the good round trip fare.
    2. Connecting flights bring a host of situations to consider
      1. Connections add a minimum of an hour to most trips.
      2. For each connection there is an increased probability of delay.
      3. As a traveler with a disability this can increase the potential for frustration and anxiety. 
      4. There are no fees for transfer assistance for persons with a disability, (small bills for tipping for the assistance.).
  2. Passenger rights and responsibilities
    1.  In 1986, Congress passed Air Carrier Access Act, to ensure people with disabilities were treated without discrimination.
    2.  Airlines may not require a person who is blind or visually impaired to sit in a particular row and seat, i.e., bulkhead row. If traveling with a dog guide, explain that the dog lays parallel to the bulkhead and will interfere with another passengers comfort while en route.
      1. Cannot be quizzed about the safety briefing
    3.  Airlines must provide:
      1. A private and inconspicuous safety briefing
      2. The opportunity to pre-board the aircraft, although public announcements are no longer made.
      3. If requested, assistance in traveling between arrival and departing gates, for a connecting flight, or to the passenger pick-up area is available at no fee.  Note: Although a message may be sent in advance, it's not a guarantee that someone is available to meet your flight when it arrives.
    4.  Passengers who are blind or visually impaired:
      1. May not sit in an exit row
      2. When making reservations, are not required to indicate that they are blind or visually impaired or using a dog guide.
      3. If in a group of ten or more traveling together for a group rate, must indicate they are blind and/or visually impaired, at the point of making the reservation, such that the airlines may be prepared to provide the possible level of assistance needed.
      4. May keep their cane at their seat, provided the cane can be positioned under three consecutively connected seats without extending out into the aisle. If it is too long, then it must be positioned below the windows, parallel to the fuselage (outer wall of the plane).
      5. Dog guides must be positioned under the seat in front of the passenger with the paws tucked in such that they are not in the aisle.
      6. Must have a valid (government issued) photo ID
    5. Mobility aids such as canes or dog guides are not counted as part of the persons carry on luggage.  The same is true for disability related equipment.
  3. Packing
    1. Less is better. If possible, try to limit to just carry-ons.
    2. Post Sept. 11. Things not to put in carry-on: knives of any length, any cutting instruments (including box cutters, straight razors and scissors), corkscrews, baseball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles, hockey sticks.
    3. Have doctors note for any medical equipment (such as diabetes syringes) that you may need to bring on board.
    4. For more details, review the document  Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions on the website.
    5. Packing clothes
      1. Fold clothes as flat as possible
      2. Place heavier items, shoes, hair dryers, etc. toward the end of the suitcase where the wheels are located, so that they don't crush or wrinkle other items.
      3. Bulky and heavy items, such as dog food, can be mailed ahead, with a note to "hold for guest arrival".
    6. "Roll-Aboard" suitcase, characteristics
      1. 22-inches long is the largest allowed in the overhead on a full size jet or in the gate side check in.
      2. Higher quality roll-aboard bags will have ball bearing wheels, three inches in diameter, made of rubber, and positioned close to the outsides of the bag.
      3. Pull up handle arrangement may be on the outside or inside of the bag, and may lock into partially, or fully extended position.
      4. Note the bag's overall balance, if you are likely to carry a bag either clipped to the front or stacked on top.
      5. If planning to carry a second bag, like brief case, small overnight bag with medicines, etc., note the particulars of the clip arrangement.
    7. Identifiable marking of your bag, whether carry on or checked.
      1. Know the color of your bag, and be able to identify it tactually
      2. Consider easily identifiable visual marking to assist others in finding your bag.
  4. Arriving at the airport
    1. Options for getting to the airport
      1. A friend to drop you off
      2. Public transportation, trial run to better learn where they drop off
      3. Hotel shuttle
      4. Taxi, limo, van service
    2. Questions to ask before discharging your driver
      1. Where are you dropping me off? It could be next to the terminal, or one to two traffic lanes away from the terminal.
      2. Which way to the nearest Sky cap, curbside check-in?
      3. How long is the curbside check-in line?
      4. Which way is the door for inside check-in?
    3. Options before reaching security
      1. Securing a computer print out of your boarding pass, (24 hours before departure), allows you to go directly to security.
      2. You can use curbside check-in to secure your boarding pass, even if you are not checking a bag, and proceed directly to security.
    4. Key elements worth remembering for future trips
      1. Confirm the door letter or number that you are being dropped off for a specific airline. Use that as a point of reference to secure orientation to the inside counter. You might do some of this before leaving for the airport.
      2. Once inside the doors, empty pockets of change, cell phones, keys, etc. putting into a zip lock bag or compartment of the suitcase or briefcase makes it easier to go through security.
      3. Use this time to listen for counter-specific language, centralized crowd noise, escalators etc. for orientation.
      4. Is security on the same level as the gates, and is that different from ticketing levels?
      5. If on different levels, learn where escalators or elevators are located.
      6. With computer-generated boarding pass, it may be a different door from drop off to go directly to security
      7. Use sound of escalator as a clue, confirm direction.
      8. Once clear of escalator or elevator learn direction to security
  5. Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
    1. Security process
      1. Must show boarding pass and valid photo ID as you enter the screening area (helpful to wear shirt or coat with pocket, keep ID handy, as you may need it at the gate).
      2. Usually crowd control ropes to negotiate
    2. Approaching the Magnetometer, Arch etc.
      1. Ask the staff at the table to tap for sound cue
      2. Must take laptop computers out of briefcase, place in bin.
      3. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) Braille Notes, Pac Mates etc, do not need to be taken out of luggage
      4. Place shoes, coats, cell phones, collapsible cane, and other metal items, in a second bin
        1. Note: While removing your shoes is not mandatory, it will speed up the process, and keep you from having to go through a secondary screening after you step through the arch.  Even if you don't set off the alarm, your shoes will have to be checked.
      5. Long/straight cane must go on the conveyor belt and through the X-ray scanner
      6. The Long cane will be returned to you once you have successfully cleared the arch.
    3. Approaching the arch
      1. Use a friendly tone of greeting, Hello, how are you today?  response gives you sound clue.
      2. Ask for direction to arch, lightly touching the leading edge to gain orientation.
      3. Extend your hand with ticket, thereby asking TSA person to guide you through the center of the arch.  Bumping or lightly brushing against the interior will set off the alarm.
      4. Once cleared by TSA person, trail the conveyer belt to where luggage should be waiting. Cane should be returned along this path.
    4. If you set off the alarm
      1. You will be asked to step aside to a separate screening area.
      2. Ask for sighted guide, dont move until you have secured the persons arm in the proper technique
      3. Secondary screening must be done by same sex staff as passenger.
      4. Both an electronic wand and palm on pat down will be done.
      5. Passenger can request a private screening, since the palm on pat down includes thorough examination of chest and inside of legs.
      6. Screener should be explaining all that they are doing, before it is done.
    5. Dog guides (service animals)
      1. With repetition and praise a dog guide will show their master the escalators
      2. Will show and work through crowd control devices
      3. At security, put dog at sit, extend long leash, step through arch after explaining the process you are going to do. This insures that you have the Screeners attention.
      4. If you step through the arch, while your dog remains at sit-rest, you should seek verbal confirmation that you have cleared, then call the dog to come through.   This procedure makes it clear that the dogs equipment set off the alarm, not you.
      5. The Screener will examine the dog, and equipment.  This will include briefly touching the dog.  You can instruct personnel not to excite the dog by talking to it, etc.
      6. (This is firm TSA protocol) You CANNOT be asked to release control of your dog, you CANNOT be asked to remove any of the dog's equipment, and your dog CANNOT be subjected to a cavity search by Screener.
      7. If you do not feel that procedures are being properly followed, ask to speak with a supervisor.  Further, don't do more than asked, as this only causes confusion, i.e., don't take off the harness with the idea of being helpful.
  6. On to the Gates
    1. Airport layouts
      1. Gates on both sides of the hallway
      2. Gates all on one side
      3. Long hallway, may have gates, on both sides, then a large circle at end of hallway
    2. Tactual clues along the way
      1. Hallways may be tiled, with carpeted gate areas
      2. Metal strips that cross hallways perpendicular to the direction of hallway traffic, great for squaring up.
      3. Surface changes
    3. Sound clues
      1. Many gates now have large screen TVs tuned to the Airport Channel, great for counting gates. 
      2. Speakers overhead, centered in hallway, if light perception, some lights down center of hallway.
      3. Restaurants have cash register sounds, smells, increased conversation level
      4. Restaurants are often positioned by bathrooms, listen for flushing sounds
      5. Listen for rolling suitcases, radio traffic. Confirm with passersby which is mens or womens
      6. Confirm gate number by asking What gate number is this?
      7. Follow rolling suitcase sound to maintain level of orientation
  7. At the gate and boarding
    1. Check in
      1. Check in at the counter and request pre-board, if you choose.  Remember that they may not make a formal announcement about pre-boarding, so be aware of gate activity, and keep track of the time.
      2. Pre-board insures that carry-on will have space
      3. Ask to be shown seating close to the jet way door. This reduces the chance of being forgotten if pre-board was requested.  After all, you're not the only passenger.
  8. Seating on the plane
    1. Plane layouts
      1. Confirm seating arrangements, 19 to 171 passengers are single aisle.
      2. If a turbo prop style plane, ask if loading from the front or back of the aircraft.
      3. DC 10, L1011, Boeing 767, 777 are "wide body" or, two aisle planes.
    2. Safety briefing
      1. Confirm the row location of the over-the-wing exits
      2. Confirm whether the airplane has a row 13 for counting purposes
      3. Confirm where the washrooms are from your seat.
      4. Most airlines have a Braille reference card to explain in more detail
      5. All 3-row seating areas have 4 overhead oxygen masks, dont forget to count your dog guide, babies, lap children, etc. as part of the four in a row.
  9. Exiting the aircraft and airport
    1. Exit with the crowd
      1. If you have developed a conversation with a seatmate, confirm they are going to baggage claim, which is where ground transportation usually is.  Tag along by maintaining conversation, thereby not asking for direct assistance.
      2. Or follow the sounds of other passengers, after confirming with the gate agent the directions to baggage claim/ground transportation.  You might ask specifically if it's on another level.
      3. Electric doors, escalators or ramps may be clues to baggage claim and ground transportation.
  10. Miscellaneous
    1. Tipping for assistance
      1. Have a fair number of single dollar bills for tipping, usually easier to deal with in a pocket, not wallet.
      2. Sky caps assisting with luggage, generally, a dollar a bag.
      3. Tipping escort personnel is not required, but can be helpful
    2. Airport food and drink
      1. Although hunger may be a driving force, getting food or coffee can require use of the third hand you don't have!
      2. If purchasing food for the flight, ask if they have a plastic bag with handles
    3. After several trips
      1. Ask the kind of questions that can help you better understand the ordering of things around you.
      2. Although it's not in use, keeping your cane in view can impact on receiving assistance.