Travelling Abroad With Special Assistance

I was lucky enough to travel to Mallorca in late September with my family. We had a lovely time basking in the sun, paddling in the pool and sea, and eating far too much! I took my wheelchair with

me to help me manage my condition while on holiday. To do this I had to book special assistance at both Birmingham and Palma Airport.

Special assistance is a facility that ensures anyone with additional needs is supported on their journey through the airport. Arriving at Birmingham, after dropping off the luggage we were directed to the special assistance counter where we met our guide. From then on we were guided through the airport, bypassing queues for security and COVID checks. As I have never used the special assistance before I didn't know what to expect, however the smooth journey through the airport and extra help made a huge difference!

I stayed in my wheelchair until I got on the plane, when it was whisked away to be put in the baggage hold. On the flight out I had 'welfare seats' which are at the front of the plane in the very first row. These seats have extra leg room which was extremely helpful for someone with constant leg pain. The flight went smoothly, other than a bit of turbulence that had me squeezing my sister's hand for dear life!

Arriving in Mallorca we were asked to remain seated until all of the other passengers had disembarked. Then, we were greeted by the special assistance staff at the Palma Airport. We were guided onto a shuttle bus that extended to match the height of the plane. Here my wheelchair was waiting for me and we were reunited again. Once on the shuttle bus we were lowered down to normal height and driven to the security and COVID checkpoints inside the airport. I must admit I was quite apprehensive, my sister and I had been split up from our parents in a foreign country, where the staff spoke very broken English, it was scary.

However, we were lucky to be travelling with another family who were using special assistance, they had far more experience with the service than us and reassured us of what would happen next. After going through passport control and security we made it to the baggage area! We had beaten my parents meaning the anxiety came crawling back. To distract ourselves we looked for the bags, I had tied red ribbon to ours so we could spot them easily (life hack!). By the time we had grabbed the first one my parents reappeared and all was well again. Making our way out of the airport we headed to the coach that would transfer us to our hotel.

Our holiday was a well earned rest and relaxation, something about being by the sea never fails to calm me. As our departure date drew near we took our required lateral flow tests, all being negative and then filled in passenger locator forms to re enter the UK.

Our flight home was an early one, getting up and out of the hotel by 7.30am was extremely difficult if I'm honest. Reaching the airport we made out way to Spanish special assistance who aided us in checking in, dropping bags off, making our way through security and into the departure lounge. I remained in my wheelchair, being taken by the assistance shuttle bus to the plane entrance as had happened upon arrival.

Two hours later and we arrived safely back in Birmingham, following procedure we remained seated until special assistance arrived. Frustratingly, two other couples who were waiting for special assistance made their way to the front of the plane to get priority, shrugging this off my sister and I sat and waited. When the special assistance staff arrived to help, they do so without my wheelchair, nor the wheelchair of a fellow passenger with cerebral palsy. I had to make do with a metal uncomfortable chair that had little give over bumps.

When we had passed through security, COVID checks and passenger locator checks, we reached baggage claim. This is where I was reunited with my wheelchair- at last! However, it was completely soaked! Disheartened and in utter disbelief I had to rely on my sister to use her jumper so I could use my wheelchair to get to the car. How could anyone treat a mobility aid with such utter disregard?

I have since contacted both the airport and airline to raise these issues with no response as yet. Despite this, on a whole I would say my experience travelling abroad with a wheelchair and disability was easier than expected. Staff were pleasant and kind while being incredibly helpful. If you plan to travel abroad with a wheelchair, notify your airline asap! They can then advise on how best to assist you.

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