Five tips for traveling with a disability: rethink travel insurance

2017 began with a trip to Ft. Lauderdale that never happened. My brother and I were hoping to escape the freezing East Coast for a weekend, but our Friday evening flight on Southwest was cancelled due to an airport shooting. We were able to get refunds on the flight, but the non-refundable hotel required managerial approval and a review of my status. The year continued with devastating disasters, both natural and unnatural, hitting other popular travel destinations.

From Hurricanes, like Irma, Maria and Harvey, to Mass Shootings, Volcanoes, Wildfires, and Earthquakes, it has become clear that you must be flexible with your travel plans because you never know what may happen in life. That includes the possibility of an injury. A few weeks ago, in the teachers vs student’s basketball game at my school, I landed wrong while jumping for a rebound and tore my meniscus in my left knee. This taught me two things:

1) I’m getting old.

2) Make a point to avoid risky physical activity prior to travel plans.

My wife and I were still able to fly to Tampa, FL to spend time with family for the holiday. However, if we were leaving the country, or traveling to a beach destination, we would likely have had to cancel our plans.

Full disclosure: My wife and I almost never book travel insurance. We try to maintain status on one airline and one hotel brand, and find that our status generally gives us a reasonable chance to make modifications in the case of natural disasters.

As we look ahead to 2018, we are taking a closer look at travel insurance. Not just because of the weather, but because you normally aren’t able to make changes to your plans in the case of personal injury. Here’s what I’ve learned from having to travel on crutches.

1) People are generally nice, be open for discussion – I wanted to stress this as I began this post recounting 2017’s travel disasters. The world can be a tough place, but the people in it make it worth living, from our fellow passengers, to the gate agents and flight attendants. Scores of people tried their best to accommodate my travel, many saying “I remember when I was on crutches and it was rough.” They have many questions about “what happened” so be prepared to share a little. I appreciate those comments, because it can often be challenging to travel with an injury or a disability.

2) Contact your airline prior to your flight regarding wheelchair service – From the escalators, to the “people mover” walkways, navigating the airport cannot easily be done on crutches. You should see what the airline recommends regarding wheelchair assistance and try to coordinate based on your arrival.

3) Arrive early – Between the hidden pathways to the elevators and having to “hop through” the A/C gate tram to get to the B Gate tram at IAD, you need extra time. If you’re newly injured, prepare for a slow going and unfamiliar experience.

4) Visit a lounge – since you are there early, take time to relax. Also, advise the lounge attendant that you need wheelchair assistance to your gate (and don’t forget to follow up). Assume that it will take at least 15-30 minutes for the wheelchair to arrive at the lounge when you are finally ready to leave.

5) Board early: Take advantage of the announcement for “people needing extra time down the jetway.” If you are on crutches, wheelchair or an arm in a sling, etc…that’s you. Sometimes you are so used to waiting for your boarding group that you forget this special boarding option. Take the time to head onboard early, give the flight attendant your crutches, etc and settle in.

An injury can happen to anyone at any time, but using a few common-sense tips having a great travel buddy, and getting insurance for the “once in a lifetime/can’t miss” trips can make all of the difference.

– Tim W.

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