Airlines Must Assist Passengers with Disabilities like Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

Travelers with disabilities were polled – and report that they’re being poorly served by the air travel industry. Ehlers Danlos travelers encounter difficulties such as handling luggage, walking through the airport, and getting onto the airplane.  This travel journalist with EDS reports on her personal experiences.

Airlines assistIn the United States, airlines must abide by laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Part 382 of Title 14 of the US code. In Europe, international legislation includes Regulation (EC) N° 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air, plus numerous conforming national laws.

Yet from start to finish, airlines — and airports — are failing people who most need them to step up. And it’s virtually invisible to people who don’t require assistance.

Most passengers encounter fellow travelers requiring assistance only at the boarding gate, where they must often be helped through crowds of flyers pushing forward to be the first to board.

RGN has polled numerous people with disabilities, from Paralympic athletes to tech industry workers and journalists — all people who need to travel, but say they are being incredibly poorly served by the air travel industry.

Here’s one passenger’s story to illustrate the gap between what some airlines promise, what they deliver and what many people would think they should be delivering, from British travel journalist Julia Buckley, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a joint disability.

Explaining her situation, Buckley tells RGN, “My joints are hyperflexible and can dislocate very easily, even when doing something other people take for granted like cleaning the hob. I can’t walk long distances because it’s painful and I tire easily. I’m not supposed to lift or carry heavy things (like suitcases) because I can injure myself easily. It affects my nervous system/heartrate so standing for long periods or waiting in line can make me faint. It’s also a chronic pain condition so I am pretty much permanently in some level of pain.

“I’m lucky enough to have it relatively mildly compared to other people and to be very mobile,” Buckley insists. “I use a stick most of the time (not if I’m just going to the shop) but I can walk. And if I don’t have my stick it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with me. I think that is why I get a lot of resistance when I request assistance. But I always ask for assistance, even on a good day, because I know that I only have a certain amount of energy for the day, and I can injure myself very easily. If I have a bad flight, it can knock me out for a week or so. I think that’s quite an important point, actually – you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to require assistance (the clue is in the name).”

You need to be your own advocate while traveling.  Ask for help and exercise your rights as a person with physical limitations and reduced mobility. 

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