By Barry & Margaret Northedge

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Loaded down with cases and hand-baggage in a bustling, crowded airport not quite sure where to go next but very sure that you can’t afford to dilly dally and miss your flight and you both need the toilet! Now imagine that if you can’t remember ever being in an airport, can’t recognise where you are or what you need to do next - confusion leads to panic and then stress and that’s just for the carer! 

Airports at the best of times can be challenging and when you are trying to navigate your way through them whilst trying to look after and guide the person you are caring for, they can be extremely stressful - not the best way to start a holiday that is meant to relax you both. 

Pride needs to be swallowed and help needs to be sought, which is where Assisted Boarding comes in. Every airport and airline that I am aware of offer Assisted Boarding to help with all forms of disability. Assisted Boarding needs to be booked with your flights, it should cost nothing extra but it is invaluable. 

What is Assisted Boarding? This service offers a range of benefits to support people who live with disabilities, and their partners to travel with less difficulty.

These are some of the benefits:

Margaret Northedge
Margaret Northedge
  • When booking flights and requesting Assisted Boarding you should be offered, at no additional cost, preferential seating with greater leg room to make it easier to get in and out of seats and, usually, seats which are closer to the front of the plane and hence closer to toilet facilities.
  • When arriving at the airport there is usually an Assisted Boarding desk where you need to identify yourself and begin to get support. Don’t forget to wear your Sunflower Lanyard!*
  • There is usually a reserved seating area to rest and wait for your flight. This can be very basic, such as at Inverness where it amounts to three or four reserved yellow seats in the middle of the airport, or at Gatwick where quite an extensive and comfortable seating area is reserved. 
  • Once you have notified the Assisted Boarding team, a member of staff will take you through the ‘bag drop’ (taking you to the front and so avoiding that ‘snake’ of a queue) and then through security. They usually take charge, sorting your boarding cards and passports for you and presenting these whenever they are needed. Once the bags are ‘dropped’ and security cleared you should be escorted to more reserved seating to wait for your flight. Anyone with mobility issues will be provided with a wheelchair and pushed along.
  • So we’ve now had our cases loaded, passports and boarding cards checked and remaining hand baggage checked through security. We’re sat in reserved seats and waiting for the ‘gate’ to open - no stress because everything has been done for us.
  • Once the plane is ready to ‘board’, a member of staff will again collect you and take you to the front of the boarding queue (at Gatwick in something akin to a golf buggy such is the size of the airport), show your boarding cards for you and then help you to board. Some airports now have a gently sloping ramp up to the plane whilst others use what is called an ambi-lift which takes you from the boarding gate to the plane and then lifts up to the level of the plane to avoid the need to use any steps etc. In both cases you should be accompanied and helped by airport staff and you should be ‘boarded’ and in your seats before any other passengers are allowed to follow. Sit back and enjoy the flight! 
  • On arrival the whole process goes in reverse with staff supporting you to exit the plane and negotiate passport control etc. The only difference being that on arrival all passengers are disembarked before Assisted Boarding passengers which means a little delay in starting your holiday ‘proper’ but that seems a small inconvenience for the removal of all other travel hassle and confusion! 

We resisted assistance for several years and suffered the stress and arguments (tell me why I go on holiday with you?!!). Pride and independence got in the way. We have swallowed that pride and used Assisted Boarding on our recent travels and will ‘sing its’ praises’ for anyone who wants to listen.

What’s not to like? You have someone looking after you from the moment you set foot in the airport (some airports will even offer support from the car park), you have all paperwork and documents taken care of, you are helped all the way through the airport get reserved seating and preferential seats on the flight and get help to both get on and off the plane all without cost. Swallow your pride and make the most of the support you are entitled to! 

*The 'Sunflower Lanyard' is worn by people with non visible disabilities to indicate that they may require additional help or support. Find out more here.