Air Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired

The following article is reproduced with kind permission from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. For further articles refer to www.casa.gov.au

Preparing for travel

As with other disabilities, planning ahead and making people aware of your situation goes a long way toward making your trip a successful one. 

  • Notify others about your needs: Inform your travel agency and airline that you are a person with a visual impairment.
  • Plan for guide dog restrictions: Some countries either do not allow Guide dogs or have quarantine requirements. Call your local Guide dog school or Blind Society for information.
  • Ask questions: If you cannot see a monitor or find a gate at the airport ask a customer service representative or another traveller to help you find your way.
  • Carry your cane: Whether you choose to use it or not for mobility purposes, your cane helps notify others that you are visually impaired.
  • Pre-board and bring carry on luggage: Avoid the hassle of crowds by arranging to pre-board the aircraft. Also, if possible, bring only carry on luggage to save time by avoiding a trip to the baggage claim terminal.
  • Suitcases: If you do bring one, remember it's type and colour. It may be helpful to attach a colourful sticker to help you or anyone assisting you with easy identification.
  • Curbside check-in: Some airports offer a shuttle system, people movers, moving walkways or curbside baggage check-in. This assists with the movement of travellers with a disability and their luggage between parking lots, terminal buildings and gates.

Travelling with a service animal

When booking your ticket, make sure to notify your travel or ticket agent that a service dog will be accompanying you in the cabin area. It is also helpful to provide the dog's size and weight. The agent can then assist you in determining the most appropriate seating on the scheduled aircraft.

Passengers with a service animal cannot be denied any seat, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain clear in case of an emergency evacuation. Deciding which seat is best for a person travelling with a service animal depends on several factors. Each aircraft model may be designed differently; floor space, bulkhead size and the amount of room under the seats can vary. Smaller dogs can usually fit under airline seats, which may provide them with a more secure ride. However, for larger dogs, bulkhead seats may be a better option.

Finding the right seat is important, but there are other issues to be aware of when travelling with your service animal. Harnesses, collars and leashes can set off the alarms at security gates. Security guards who are not familiar with service dogs may be uncertain how to handle the situation. One solution is to put your dog on a "sit-stay" using a long leash, while you pass through the security gate, and then call the dog to you. This will make it clear that it is the dog's harness which is setting off the alarm.

Try to avoid sedating your dog as drug reactions may differ at high altitudes and can lead to illness. Also, do not feed your service animal just before departure, especially on longer journeys. Moreover, for everyone's comfort, relieve the dog prior to boarding.

If you are travelling overseas be aware that quarantine regulations will still apply. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service website contains helpful information on quarantine regulations.

Passengers with guide dogs qualify for pre-boarding. Boarding first can be both easier on the dog, you and the other passengers, as well as making any possible seating changes easier to perform. Once you get to your seat, it is recommended by many that the dog's harness be removed. This allows the dog better ease of movement and avoids the harness catching on objects around the seat.