Lots of people who need assisted travel at airports are missing out simply because they don’t know how to go about asking for it.
There are any number of reasons for needing assisted travel at the airport. You might have recently broken a bone and find walking and carrying bags a bit tricky, or you might have a disability or illness that means travelling the often long distances between terminal and gate is a difficult ordeal.
So how do you go about getting assisted travel at airports?
Do I request assisted travel from my airline or the airport?
Request assisted travel from your airline or travel agent, and this information will be passed to the airport so that they can ensure you are looked after. The ways you can ask for assistance will vary between airlines, so if you haven’t been alerted to your options during the booking process it’s important to make contact by phone or email.
To avoid stress, try to make your arrangements for special assistance at the airport as soon as you’ve booked your flights. You must request assisted travel at the airport no later than 48 hours prior to arriving at the airport, but even this can be too late to take any sudden changes in your plans into account. Buying your travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your holiday is the best way to ensure you’re covered for the unexpected, too.
There ought to be special assistance at travel touch-points, such as terminal entrances, transport interchanges (i.e. from a rail station to the terminal) and check-in. Whichever you arrive at first, make it known that you have special travel needs.
Airports are well-equipped to provide assisted travel and can be on-hand to help you throughout your journey.
If you think you will struggle between your point of arrival and the first point of access, it’s important to tell your airline about this. They may be able to arrange a porter.
What should I ask for?
Airlines will differ in how they deal with your request for assisted travel. Some will want to speak to you on a designated phone line, others may ask you to fill in a form.
In any case, it’s important to be as specific as possible about your needs so that they can get you the most appropriate help. Remember to relate this to your travel – do you need a wheelchair from the terminal to the gate? Do you need help with security searches? What about help once you’re on board the aircraft?
How do I check where the assistance stations are?
Visit the airport’s website. Many of the major UK airports list where you can expect to find assistance at each terminal.
The Civil Aviation Authority has a list of airports and what they provide, meaning that you are well-placed to prepare for your assisted travel arrangements before you arrive. Here’s some information about special assistance points at the UK’s most popular airports:
Heathrow has help phones in the long and short stay car parks, the central bus station and the terminal forecourts, but not manned stations in these areas. Call from these phones to request assistance. There are also help phones throughout the airport, especially in areas where there are long distances to cover.
Terminal 2 has a help desk before security on the Departures level.
Terminal 3 has help on the first floor, before security (above check-in zones A and B), as well as after security, behind World Duty Free, in the additional seating area.
Terminal 4 has help before security next to Excess Baggage in check-in zone B, as well as after security at the Serenity Lounge, next to Costa Coffee.
Terminal 5 has help before security at check-in zone G as well as after security at the Lichfield Suite (opposite Gate 21).
Like Heathrow, Gatwick has help phones stationed throughout the airport that you can use to request assistance.
South Terminal has a special assistance reception before security on Level 2, directly opposite the exit from the train station, to the left of the men’s toilets and to the right of lost property. It also has a special assistance desk after security in the departure lounge on the upper level. This is directly in front of your exit from security.
North Terminal has a special assistance reception before security on the far right of the building as you enter. It is to the right of security, and faces a restaurant and customer toilets. It also has a special assistance desk after security in the departure lounge, situated on the lower level in the centre of the atrium. It is immediately opposite the exit from security and flight connections.
Terminal 1 has a special assistance desk in Check-In Area A, situated in the rear far-left of the hall as you enter. It is 65m from the central entrance.
There is a special assistance desk in Check-In Area B situated 17m from the main entrance.
There is also a help phone assistance point in Pier C (Gates 21-32) in departures.
Terminal 2 Departures Check-In has a special assistance reception directly to the right of door 2 as you enter. It’s also 61 metres from door 1.
On the other side of security, there is a special assistance reception on the left as you exit Duty Free, located between gates 208 and 209.
Terminal 3 Departures Check-In has a special assistance reception 14m from the central departure information board; or 25m from the door 1 flight information boards.
Lower Departures (Gates 141-150) has a special assistance reception before the lift and stairs taking you to the upper level.
In the terminal building, there is a special assistance reception opposite the Spar. There are also help phones located next to the disabled parking bays in Car Park 1, Car Park 2 and Premium Set Down Car Park; next to the Air-Rail link at Birmingham rail interchange; and opposite the local area and courtesy bus stops at the terminal.
Before security has a special assistance reception on the same wall as the entrances, situated to the right of the main hall as you enter. It is directly next to the third entrance on the right as you face the hall.
After security has a special assistance reception situated outside gates 13-23.
Terminal 1 has a special assistance reception located on the departures floor, on the right as you enter from Door 2.
Terminal 2 has a special assistance reception on the check-in level next to the drop-off zone for reduced mobility passengers.
Those requiring special assistance can go directly to their check-in desk and request help, and a representative will be sent to assist.
Is there a charge for assisted travel at airports?
There should not be a fee for assisted travel at airports in the EU. You have the right to assisted travel if you have any type of physical impairment, including temporary impairment such as a broken leg within the EU.
Are there criteria for physical impairment?
It is unlikely that you will be denied assisted travel if you legitimately feel that you need the help, and all customer-facing airport staff are given training in helping passengers with visible and hidden difficulty. However, be mindful of the fact that resources of this kind are limited and you should only use it if it is necessary for your travel.
Can I expect the same level of assistance at my destination?
This is highly dependent on where you’re travelling to. You are legally entitled to assistance at all EU airports as described in European legislation, however beyond that it is difficult to predict with certainty what amenities will be available.
Countries like the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are likely to offer the same level of free assistance as EU airports, however there are no legal guarantees and it’s always important to check ahead of travel.
Moreover, while some countries offer assistance, it may require a fee. Check with your travel provider or airline for the most relevant information.
Is assisted travel available at all UK airports 24/7?
Few UK airports operate flights 24/7, and therefore it’s not always going to be the case that help is on hand. Help phones may have an automated response if used out-of-hours, and desks usually operate while there are flights taking off. Whatever assistance there is to passengers during out-of-hours operation ought to include impaired travel assistance.
For peace of mind, always check these details well in advance and make the requests you need when you book your flights to help get a smooth journey once you arrive at the airport.