With the US opening up after COVID, people are beginning to travel again or to think about traveling. Guide Dogs for the Blind and Seeing Eye have created a video tutorial on best practices for airline and airport employees to safely assist travelers who use dog guides. This video is also a helpful video for O&M students who are considering a dog guide or who are interested in flying independently. The video does a great job of covering different levels of assistance, as some travelers fly frequently and prefer to be independent with only a few verbal prompts while other travelers prefer more active assistance.
O&M Airport/Airplane Knowledge
Ideally, O&M students will have at least one hands-on lesson at an airport. Due to many factors (including distance to an airport), this may or may not be possible, especially during a time of social distancing. There are a number of O&M activities that can lead up to and support a lesson at the airport. A tactile map can help the student learn what is at their local airport, different areas of the airport, and to build a mental map. Students can learn the process of going through security, what needs to be done (such as unpacking a computer, emptying pockets, whether shoes need to be removed) and how the bins on the conveyor belt work. Students should understand what is outside the secured airport area (such as where you check in bags, collect your luggage, waiting areas, drop off, pick up, etc.) Students should also understand what is inside the secured area (after security), general information about the terminals, which airlines are in each terminal, shops, the waiting areas around the gate, and the process of checking in with a paper ticket or digital ticket. On smaller airplanes, carrying on luggage is left on a rack or by a door, while larger planes require placing carrying on luggage above the seats. Most planes require carry-on luggage to be placed wheels in. Travelers who need extra time are allowed to board early - it is recommended that students take advantage of this, as it often takes a visually impaired traveler longer to get organized on the plane. Airplane etiquette is also important, such as standing up and moving into the aisle if a passenger needs to get in/out of your aisle.
Everyone has to pass through security. There are typically two kinds of walk-thru machines. When passing through the metal detector, you cannot touch the sides of the metal detector while inside it. If possible, find a metal detector locally and set up a time with the police or security guards to allow the student to physically explore the metal detector and if possible, the conveyer belt that passes through the x-ray machine.
Editor's Note: I have arranged to take my students to the local courthouse or police station to learn about and explore metal detectors. When they are not busy, most police officers/security guards will talk to the student and provide helpful insight. The student can also practice self-advocacy skills during role playing with a police officer who pretends not to understand the student's right to have a cane through a metal detector, etc.
The video includes a description of how travelers with a dog always go through the walk-thru metal detector with the harness on. For students who have or are thinking about a dog guide, this section of the video provides good information on what to expect when going through a metal detector. Remember, not all airport employees have had experience with a visually impaired traveler! Use this video to jump start discussions about the airport!
The video is embedded in the article: Guide Dogs for the Blind and Seeing Eye Create Video to Help Airlines and Airports to Assist Travelers who are Visually Impaired.
Note: Some airports have beacons and an app designed to assist travelers in the airport. Airports, BlindSquare Enabled is a post about one airport beacon deployment.
Students should learn how to ask for assistance (can be set up ahead of time or when at the airport). Role play various scenarios so that the student is able to articulate his/her needs. What happens if an airport employee grabs and pulls the student along? What if the student wants to buy gum at a store? Use the restroom? Needs assistance finding the right gate or his/her checked baggage? Have your student ask leading questions and how to help a guide to provide the desired level of assistance.
Plan a trip - even if it is a pretend trip! (This can be tied into researching about attractions at a destination, writing a paper about where you want to go, what you will do there, etc.) Use an app such as BlindSquare to look around the desired location. What restaurants are near the destination hotel? If the student's family is preparing to fly, be sure to cover airport travel in O&M lessons!
- Look up flights, times, and cost: Why are some flights to the same destination cheaper than others?
- Discuss 'frequent flier' miles
Discuss print tickets vs. digital tickets (pros and cons)
- Tip: If flying with a digital ticket, take a screen shot of the digital QR code ticket; it is easier to pull up the photo than to find the correct part of the digital ticket!
- Download the airline app: the app will provide real-time updates, such as the gate number, terminal, etc. especially important if changing flights!
- Discuss "check-in" 24 hours ahead of time via email (allows you to skip the check in desk!)
- Discuss the baggage check in process at the curb (with tip) or inside thru computer check in and then in person. Discuss how your bags should be labeled, size/weight restrictions, what can be carried on and what must be checked, things that are not allowed through security, etc.
- Plan how will you get to/from the airport? (both at your starting point and your destination)
- Become familiar with Uber/Lift/taxi/shuttle options