Chelsea writes about her first time ever using special assistance at an airport. She discusses its benefits to her health and why other individuals living with disabilities should consider special assistance when travelling.
Travelling can be extremely difficult for individuals living with a rare disease as more preparations have to be considered while planning. This could include the accessibility of venues, such as whether they have disability ramps or remembering things like medication or anything that helps with pain relief or managing symptoms. All of this then contributes to added stress that comes with travel anyway, which for many rare diseases only makes our symptoms worse. So we must ensure for the weeks, or even months prior, we are taking it easy, step-by-step to ensure our health doesn’t decline, as that would make travelling so much worse.
One thing that could help with travel is special assistance. Special assistance is provided by an employee to a passenger who may require extra accommodations while navigating their journey through an airport, train station or anything similar. This includes people with hearing, visual, psychological or physical disabilities, as well as invisible conditions. This means that for individuals living with a rare disease, they too can request special assistance when booking travel.
I have never needed such accommodations to travel until last year, when my health declined after having shingles for the third time in my life in July. It massively deteriorated my health and with the help of my constantly fluctuating lupus symptoms, I am still picking up the pieces now, slowly regaining my stability and independence. I was not really sure what I was in for, as I’ve heard some people can have a real tough time going through special assistance. But I learned a lot of things travelling with it.
When going somewhere new, I always make sure I allow plenty of time to travel. That helps to give me space to think about what I am doing, plan how I’m going to get somewhere and also gives me more time to rest and conserve my energy. This helps particularly when a place is unfamiliar, so I can learn the route of where I am going and plan a structure to my travelling experience.
In this piece, I’m going to write about special assistance at an airport. Special assistance can be particularly helpful there, knocking almost all obstacles out of the way. As professionals, it is part of the airport staff member’s job to help us navigate through the airport. They know exactly how to get from A to B, with shortcuts that people without special assistance wouldn’t even be allowed to use, such as certain lifts. This means you don’t just get there just on time, but in plenty of time, which in turn, gives you more time to rest and sit at the gate without the stress of figuring out where to go, how to get there and how much time it will take.
Another plus is not having to wait in line. During check-in, security and boarding at airports, there is normally a separate lane for people using special assistance, allowing you to go straight to the front of the queue. This helps slightly with things like fatigue, muscle weakness and chronic pain as you don’t have to stand or wait as long. Obviously, these symptoms don’t just magically disappear, but it definitely eases some of the tension. And if you have a sunflower lanyard (a recognised sign in the United Kingdom of hidden disability), workers know from a mile away to guide you to that lane, so you are getting the assistance you deserve.
You can also request to be pushed in a wheelchair if walking is impossible, too difficult or tiring, or if you are worried the staff member might walk too fast for you to keep up. Due to my fatigue being particularly horrible the first time I used special assistance, I asked to be pushed so I didn’t get lost travelling with the support worker—walking would have exacerbated the chronic pain I had at that time.
While I was patiently waiting (and resting) at the gate, I felt more relaxed as I knew the helpers would tell me when I was ready to board. I knew that while everyone else was called to line up at the gate, I would be able to get on the plane first without any hassle. I wouldn’t have to wait. That queue-jumping certainly eases my chronic pain and reduces stress. Instead of all that worrying and keeping an eye on the time or looking out for the alerts telling me to board, I could just concentrate on one thing—myself!
Lastly, I’ve learned that it can be okay to ask strangers for help. Granted, helping is their job, but it can sometimes be hard to trust that people will understand when, often, other people have shown they can’t.
So for someone to willingly help me, without knowing my situation or what it means was extremely heart-warming.
But it took courage for me to go up and request their services—I don’t like feeling like a burden and not doing things independently. Fortunately, most of the staff were incredibly friendly, which comforted me and reassured me that I was not an additional chore.
Overall, my first experience using special assistance was a good one. It didn’t take away any of my symptoms entirely, but it certainly helped reduce stress and slightly eased my chronic pain. While fatigue is not an easy thing to overcome, special assistance was helpful in enabling me to rest more. Sitting in a chair instead of walking through an unfamiliar place was great!
I definitely recommend requesting special assistance for aeroplane journeys. It may make all the difference and make it easier on your body and health, which is the most important thing when travelling.