There are times when you, a friend or a family member will need extra help, and the airlines provide services at no extra charge.
I have a relative with special needs who had concerns about flying solo because, due to her disability, she gets anxious in new situations. Even though she is an adult, she qualifies for assistance getting to the gate and from the plane to the baggage area.
She can drive around town to her local supermarket, bank or other places she has been to many times. But in a big airport on her own, navigating ticket counters, TSA checkpoints, gates, baggage claim and all the rest, she experiences confusion and anxiety.
While she has flown many times in the past, she has never done so alone. This process of figuring out what kind of help is available to my relative was a challenge for me, a seasoned traveler. I can only imagine that it must be a challenge for other families that have a similar situation.
My relative was flying on a nonstop flight on American from Dallas to Phoenix, and I filled out a Disability Assistance form for her online at American Airlines’ website.
On the form, I explained what help I thought she would need and noted that I believed she would be much more comfortable if I could get a pass to escort her to the gate, just as I would if she were an unaccompanied minor. I also requested that she have a friend meet her at the gate when she arrived in Phoenix instead of meeting at the baggage claim. There is a lot of distance to cover from the ticket counter through the TSA line and to the gate, and we were more comfortable knowing she could be escorted.
Less than two hours after I submitted the form, I got a call from Roger with American Airlines.
He explained that the airline would allow adults on both ends to escort my relative to and from the gate. He told me that both the traveler and the escort would need to provide government-issued picture IDs at check-in; the person picking her up would also need to present a picture ID.
Roger told me to tell her if she felt uncomfortable at any time on the plane or at the airport, she should walk up to any American employee in uniform to ask for assistance. If for some reason the person picking her up couldn’t make it to the gate on time, the airline would escort her to baggage claim.
My talk with Roger was very helpful and exceeded my expectations. He gave me peace of mind, and my relative was tickled pink to have a family member walk her to the gate. I thought I was going to have to go through hoops to make this trip go smoothly, but it was painless.
If you have this kind of situation with a family member or friend, make sure you contact the airline ahead of time to have everything in place. If the person needs an assistant at home, he or she will need a traveling companion. If the person just needs a little help, such as wheelchair assistance or an escort to and from the gate, this free service is available. If you have any hesitation about airline travel for a person with special needs and you believe the person might benefit from assistance, you should request this service.
One thing I would do no matter what: The person dropping off and the person picking up should sign up for flight notification. You should also do this anytime you are flying for updates on the flight departure time, arrival time and any gate changes. I like to choose the two-hour notice option because I get notices for the scheduled gate and any changes.
I cannot tell you how many times I have had the gate number change after I’ve left for the airport. While sitting in the terminal I’ve even had notices of gate changes and flight delays before it was announced by the gate agent.