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Last updated: December 2023
Last full page review: August 2022

See here for more information.

You can find information about flying with a disability at:

Your right to special assistance is stipulated in UK law and applies when:

  • You fly on any airline from a UK airport
  • You fly on an EU or UK registered airline to an UK airport
  • You fly from outside of the UK or EU to the EU on a UK carrier

You should aim to give your airline 48 hours notice of the help you need. This can be from the moment you arrive at an airport and can cover:

  • your journey through your departure airport
  • boarding the aircraft and during the flight
  • disembarking the aircraft
  • transferring between flights
  • travelling through your destination airport.

Similar passenger rights apply in other countries including the EU and the United States. However, there are many parts of the world where similar rights are not available. Assistance may require a fee or not be available at all.


Medical Assistance

If you’re going to need assistance on the plane or at the airport, it’s best to let the airline know at least 48 hours before your journey.

You may be asked to fill in an Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice Form (what a terrible name!), or your doctor may need to complete a Medical Information Form.

Your doctor can contact The Civil Aviation Authority Aviation Health Unit if they have a query which is not covered in the CAA’s website guidance and where guidance is not available from the airline.

If you use a ventilator, the airline will need to be told well in advance of your travelling, especially if you may need to use it on the plane. Some airlines offer oxygen on-board or alternatively you may need to take an oxygen concentrator. Oxygen needs to be pre-ordered with the airline and some airlines do charge.


Travelling with a powerchair

If you use a powerchair, check that the airline will carry it in the plane’s hold. The airline will need to know its size, weight and battery type. Two pieces of mobility equipment can be carried free of charge from the UK to anywhere in the world, but this may differ on the return flight. Check in advance with the airline.

Powered wheelchairs need to be made safe before they can be stored. The electrics need to be disengaged and this can usually be done with an ‘airsafe plug’, which the airport may supply, or you can buy one before you travel. If an ‘airsafe’ plug can’t be used, then the battery will need to be disconnected. A photocopy of the relevant section of the equipment handbook can be useful to help airport staff to do this correctly.

Wheelchair manufacturers can provide an airline battery safety certificate.

You may be able to stay in your chair until you reach the side of the plane and then transfer into an on-board wheelchair to access the plane. Manual slings / a hoist may be used to assist you to transfer from your chair to an on-board wheelchair or onto the seat on the plane. Cabin crew won’t lift / transfer passengers so once you’re in your seat on the plane, if you need to move during the flight you’ll have to be assisted by your partner / PA.

Civil Aviation Authority / Travelling with Mobility & Medical Assistance


Other Assistance

If you won’t be able to access a toilet during a flight and need to use a device such as a uribag, you’ll need to let the airline know in advance which device it will be. This is because there may be issues with the safe disposal of the contents from certain toileting devices. The airline will try and assist with privacy while you’re using a toileting device – for example, by holding up a blanket.

If you need supportive seating, you can talk to the airline’s customer services before you travel to make sure that it’s compatible with the airplane seats and seatbelts.

Tryb4uFly – to test seat options and hire equipment

Seat Guru – to check where seats are on planes and the amount of legroom available

Civil Aviation Authority / Travelling with an assistance dog

For more information on this, please see the Equipment section.

Boats & Ferries

Most UK ports have good facilities for disabled travellers, but services can vary in Europe.

Before you book a ferry crossing or cruise, check with the operator or travel agent that they will be able to help with any requirements you may have.


Going on a cruise:

Image shows a lady who has SMA sitting in her wheelchair. She is on holiday, in front of a large lake and mountains. She is wearing a cream baseball cap, a white t-shirt and black trousers."In 2003 I embarked on a week cruise to the Canaries. My first taste of foreign sunshine in 20 years!!! It was amazing! The cabin was perfect, the ship completely accessible and the staff couldn’t do enough to help. There was even a dedicated person who was able to offer advice regarding the accessibility of ports and help arrange accessible shore excursions. Aside from the initial trepidation of trying something new, I can honestly say that compared to previous holidays it was completely stress free! All in all I was hooked and suddenly the world opened up to me!"

Katy, an adult who has SMA.


Buses

All buses most have ramps and designated wheelchair spaces inside the bus.

A national bus concession scheme for disabled people is run by local councils and operates differently in different parts of the UK.

Read Ross’ Community Voice about travelling by bus in Cornwall >


Coaches

There is no national concessions scheme for coach travel but ask if a coach operator offers any discounts. Accessible coaches are operated by

  • National Express
  • Oxford Tube
  • Megabus
  • Gold Line (Northern Ireland)
  • City Link (Scotland).

Community Transport

This local door-to-door transport service is often called ‘Dial a Ride’ or ‘Ring and Ride’ and is usually run by local councils or transport authorities. They can be booked in advance and are cheaper than taxis. It generally can’t be used for everyday trips when there’s alternative transport available.


MotorBikes


Taxis

All black cabs in London, must be accessible for wheelchair users, but how accessible they really are can vary.

Outside London, local taxi licensing offices can tell you what’s available in a particular area.

It’s illegal for taxi drivers to discriminate against wheelchair users. Some areas have taxi concessions in place which make taxi travel cheaper:

  • Contact your Local Authority for more information.
  • If you live in London most of the time, check if you are eligible for a Disabled Persons Freedom Pass and what it would cover.
  • A London Freedom Pass holder who finds it too difficult to travel without assistance using public transport may be eligible for the Taxicard scheme, which is also managed by London Councils.

Trains

All rail vehicles in service have to meet the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR).

Most stations have portable ramps if the train doors aren’t level with the platform; access at most large stations is generally pretty good now. You need to book free assistance in advance so that a member of staff is ready with a ramp when you get on and off. Train companies ask for at least 24 hours’ notice.

Book through the train operating company, in person at a local station or online:

Once booked, Passenger Assistance is treated like a reservation. You and the staff at the relevant stations each get an email record of what you’ve been booked and when it’s for.

If you live in London most of the time, check if you are eligible for a Disabled Persons Freedom Pass and what it would cover.


Tube in London

These guides tell you which stations are accessible:

As access is such a barrier to so many activities, we provide links to accessible inclusive national organisations. You will also find some related SMA Community discussions that may be of interest.

Read More >

See here for more information.

If you’re a regular wheelchair user, you’ll know that though there have been many improvements, many places that think they are accessible just aren’t! Knowing where to find an accessible loo, for example, can make a big difference to a day out. If you don’t use a wheelchair at home (and maybe don’t have your own) and you get tired when you’re out and about, speak to your physio or OT about if and when it might be helpful to start using one sometimes – perhaps for days out at big venues – and how to go about getting one.

Accessaloo App – uploaded and rated by users worldwide.

Changing Places toilets provide a height adjustable changing bench with hoist and plenty of space. Visit their website for more information and a map of where Changing Places can be found. 

The National Key Scheme for accessible toilets that can be found in shopping centres, cafes, department stores and in bus and train stations around the country. To unlock the toilets, you’ll need to buy a RADAR key.

ToiletMap – Great British Toilet Map gives opening hours and locations – use the filter to find accessible toilets.

These websites are full of ideas, tips and advice:

AccessAble – access information for over 120,000 places of interest in the UK

Accessible Boating – charity offering day trips on an accessible boat.

CanalAbility – charity offering accessible canal boat day trips

Cinema Trips can be much cheaper with a CEA Card (Cinema Exhibitors’ Association Card). This works nationally entitling anyone age 8 years and over to one free ticket for a person accompanying them. To apply, your child will need to be receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA), The card currently costs £6.00 a year.

Euan’s Guide – access reviews from disabled people and their friends and families. Covers tourism and entertainment venues as well as post offices, supermarkets and railway stations.

Kids Days Out – child friendly activities across Britain and whether they are wheelchair accessible throughout.

National Trust Accessibility Guide.

Sandcastle Trust – offers bespoke family respite, wrap around fun family engagement activities and peer support to support families living with a rare genetic condition (based on their individual needs) from across the UK.

Seagull Trust (Scotland) – a charitable organisation, wholly run by unpaid volunteers, providing free barge trips for people with special needs. They have fully accessible boats suitable for wheelchairs.

The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain includes accessibility information, including disabled parking and reviews, hints and tips written by disabled visitors.