* This post is kindly sponsored by the companies listed at the end of this post, but all opinions are my own. *
The AYL team are about to embark on an extremely exciting adventure across the pond! Despite my excitement, I am the first person to admit that travelling with a disability is not easy. You can’t just leave your condition, equipment and treatments at home; so it often takes a lot of preparation, organisation and practice to ensure your journey goes as smoothly as possible. After years of travelling with my disability in tow, I am sharing a sponsored series of tips & tricks in the hope that it will give others the confidence to embark on an adventure of their own! So here goes the first post...
Last year I had the opportunity to test out a green lanyard with yellow sunflowers on, as part of a hidden disability support system that will be rolling out across all UK airports at some point in the near future. So after flying to America and London, I thought I would share my thoughts in case some of you are nervous about going to the airport this summer!
Wearing the Sunflower Lanyard makes it easier for passengers with hidden disabilities, to indicate to airport staff that they may need additional care and support while travelling through an airport, without necessarily having to make themselves known. Allowing you to navigate an airport knowing that if you need any additional support during your journey, you can ask without having to explain your entire medical history! The scheme is already being used in many airports across the UK in order to create a consistent support system for travellers. There is now also talk of the Sunflower Lanyards being trialled for the same reasons in train stations and supermarkets, which is very exciting! Although the lanyard isn’t a ‘fast pass’ or a ‘queue jumper’, so please don’t assume that you’ll be ushered through an airport; it’s simply there to notify staff that you may need more support.
Definitely not, because there will always be passengers travelling with an impairment or mobility difficulties, who may require additional physical assistance within the airport. Even if you are fairly mobile there can be lots of walking involved in a travel day; so the various levels of passenger assistance are still available to everyone! This is something I am going to be talking about in my next blog post, so keep an eye out!
For us, going away means carrying a lot of medical baggage, along with my oxygen machine, wheelchair accessories, crutches and sometimes even my assistance dog! Making us the couple you see balancing way too much luggage on one trolley and a wheelchair, whilst trying to navigate their way to check-in without knocking people over. It must look quite comical from afar!
Prior to my flight I arrange to get myself through the airport, but request to meet someone from the passenger assistance team at the gate so that I can take my wheelchair right up to the aircraft door and have assistance with boarding. Up until this point, we have never been offered any form of help whilst making our way through the airport; which I assume is because I have a carer pushing my wheelchair, so staff assume I am ok. When in fact it is extremely difficult to juggle everything amongst a very noisy, crowded airport.
Thankfully since wearing the Sunflower Lanyard around my neck, I have noticed a huge difference in the level of support we were offered from various members of staff. As soon as we entered the airport, someone came over to ask us which airline we were flying with, before directing us to the appropriate check in desk and helping us with our luggage.
After we’d checked in, we went straight through security and although they say that the lanyard isn’t a ‘fast past’; the member of staff spotted my lanyard and allowed us to use the shortest queue, before blocking it off to give us time to discreetly go through my 2 cabin sized cases of medications, treatments and machines. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but for me I really appreciated this small act of consideration. Due to the fact I have to take most of my medical baggage on board the flight, it can take nearly an hour to get through security. I certainly don’t mind the lengthy security checks on my ridiculous amounts of medications, injections and battery packs; because safety is a top priority! However, I do not appreciate the lack of understanding and respect that usually unfolds during our security experience. In the past I have been:
Forced to show confidential medical letters, in front of a large line of people that are impatiently waiting for me to hurry up - (although I put up a very good fight whilst explaining why this is not ok)!
Asked to explain why I needed over 300 catheters - (because without them I can’t pass urine for 3 weeks you dingbat)!
Questioned why I need so many vials of the same medication - (to keep me alive should an allergic reaction strikes - duh)!
Asked why I couldn’t repack my case fast enough to allow other passengers to get through security - (I won’t repeat my carers response to this rude comment)!
Hopefully you can now understand how much we appreciated this small gesture of support during my recent security experience, which in turn allowed me to leave the area with my dignity intact!
After going through security, we had quite a bit of time to spare in departures. So aside from getting a bite to eat and recharging my oxygen concentrator, I knew we would be taking things easy. Because of this I felt comfortable enough to take off my Sunflower Lanyard, until we needed to make our way to the gate. Once at the gate we were greeted by two members of staff, who were ready to help me transfer from my wheelchair and onto the plane. If possible, I like to board first so I have plenty of time to safely get into my seat and rig up my machines, before the sudden influx of passengers begins. But not everyone is comfortable boarding first, so remember to voice your preferences! For example - whilst waiting in the gate we met an able bodied passenger who was also wearing a Sunflower Lanyard, however they asked to board the plane last as they didn’t cope well in crowded / noisy environments. After the flight the passenger told me that the staff were more than happy to accommodate their request, and even supported them with their luggage during boarding!
So for anyone needing additional assistance when travelling, I would highly recommend getting a Sunflower Lanyard. The difference between my two trips was huge; so I have no doubt that this scheme will continue to discreetly help more people as they make their way through an airport, supermarket or train station! I also love how subtle the Sunflower Lanyard is, because I could easily tuck it away in my bag or under my jumper when I didn’t need it / want it to be seen
The scheme is supposedly available in most airports across the country, so if you are travelling via an airport this summer I would highly recommend seeing if the service is available to you. The Sunflower Lanyards are free to anyone living with a hidden disability or medical condition, but there are a few different ways you can get your hands on one.
You can apply for a Sunflower Lanyard up to six months before your flight, which you will then receive in the post. Although they recommend allowing 4 working days to receive your package if you are based in the UK, and 7 working days if you are based outside the UK. I contacted one of the email addresses listed below to order my Sunflower Lanyard, but you must include the following information in your message; otherwise it could delay your order! Alternatively, on the day of your trip you can pop over to the passenger assistance desk once arrive at the airport to pick up a Sunflower Lanyard. Then it is yours to keep and reuse again and again!
Heathrow Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gatwick Email: HiddenDisability@gatwickairport.com
Information To Include:
Full name (including surnames)
Departing / Connecting or Arriving terminal
Postal address where your lanyard will be delivered
Number of lanyards are required