MY CLUB • November 2023
From requesting mobility assistance to what to flag during the online booking process, Silver Member Antonia Windsor shares her top tips for getting a little extra help
Some people will need a bit of help each and every time they fly. Some of us may suddenly find ourselves requiring it when we hadn’t before. My husband, for instance, has a permanent spinal injury and always requires assistance, whereas last year I broke my ankle and needed support for just a handful of my British Airways flights. But, the truth is, most of us could do with assistance to travel at some point in our lives – so how do you get it?
Do you have to prove you have a disability?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to show proof that you need help. Assistance is self-selecting and, if you say you require it, then staff will take your word for it. If you feel you can’t walk the distance or need extra help for whatever reason, you can book assistance.
How do you add assistance to your booking?
Once you’ve booked a flight, select the level of assistance needed through the Manage My Booking portal. The assistance will only apply to the selected passenger but, if you’re travelling as a family, then British Airways will endeavour to keep you all together.
You can also add assistance in your Executive Club account. When you then enter your membership number to a new booking, this information should automatically appear against your passenger details but please check it shows correctly in Manage My Booking.
Before a long-haul flight to Antigua last year, I realised I’d booked the wrong level of assistance for my husband (I’d said he could use the stairs, when he can’t). On the phone with the accessibility helpline, staff fixed the situation and reserved seats for me, my husband and our three children on both legs, so we had peace of mind that my husband was seated close to the toilets.
If you have difficulty adding assistance online, or if you’re unsure about what level of assistance to select, then you can email the Accessibility Assistance team or call the helpline.
Antonia Windsor with her husband and children
What type of assistance can I get?
You can arrange to take your own wheelchair, mobility scooter or service dog. You can also book assistance to help you through the airport and on to the plane if you have mobility issues or total or partial hearing or visual loss – as well as non-visible disabilities. The airport can provide a wheelchair to help you get from landside to the aircraft. Do speak to British Airways well in advance of your departure date to ensure the right processes are in place for you, especially during busy travel periods.
A Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard
You can also request a Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard at the airport as a subtle way of indicating a non-visible disability. British Airways was the first UK airline to formally recognise this, and staff have been trained to understand the meaning of invisible disabilities and how to support you.
Can you get assistance at the airport if you haven’t added it to your booking?
You can, of course, get assistance on the day simply by asking a member of staff or requesting it at check-in, but it is recommended that you add assistance to your booking at least 48 hours before departure to ensure the smoothest possible journey.
What happens on the day at the airport?
Depending on where you’re flying from, you may be able to get assistance from outside the airport. For example, at Gatwick, you can collect a wheelchair from opposite the North Terminal Premier Inn. Otherwise, it’s best to head straight to the assistance desk inside the departures hall. Here, you can get help to check in and, if needed, to go through security. Once you’re airside, there’s usually a dedicated area in the departures lounge to relax in. If you’d like to shop at Heathrow, simply request a buzzer – it’ll ring when it’s time to go to the gate. Depending on your needs, the airport’s assistance staff can take you to the gate in a wheelchair or motorised buggy. If you’ve stated on your booking that you can’t use steps, you may bypass the gate altogether and board the aircraft using an ambulift, which is a motorised vehicle that lifts you to the aircraft door so you can gain level access.
What if you are travelling with other people?
If you’re travelling with a single companion or in a small group, you can usually stay together. If you’re travelling as part of a larger group, your travel companions may have to make their own way to the gate and meet you there.
For more information on accessible travel, click here
Meet Brian Hickman and his service dog in our latest accessibility story here