Sandra’s five tips for travelling with a walking aid
Sandra Kurki, who uses a rollator as an aid, travelled twice to Alicante, Spain in the summer of 2022, first with her family and then alone. Travelling was pretty stressful for her at first but became easier with each flight. Sandra now shares her useful tips for other travellers with a rollator or other walking aid.
Travelling after a long time stressed Sandra Kurki, who uses a rollator as her walking aid. Sandra had not travelled for a long time due to the coronavirus pandemic and her illness. In fact, in June 2022, Sandra had never flown with her rollator before, so the experience was completely new to her and therefore very nerve wracking.
Sandra first flew to Alicante with her family and then returned there a few weeks later alone. Despite the tension, everything went smoothly and now Sandra shares her tips in order to help others travelling with a rollator. In addition to Sandra's tips, you can also find information on our website in the Special assistance and health pages.
1. Prepare for your trip carefully and fill out the special assistance form
“Before the trip, you should request special assistance on Finnair's website no later than 48 hours before your flight, in order for them to receive information about your special need and have time to book an assistance service if necessary. For the form, you also have to decide which rollators you wish to bring with you on the trip – you could take two of them – and find out their dimensions. After filling out the form, Finnair will contact you.”
2. Be aware that things are handled slightly differently at different airports
“At different airports, things might be handled in slightly different ways, so it’s good to be mentally prepared for that and reserve some time. Still, even if things were to be handled differently in different places, you can still trust that they have been thought through and are done in the most efficient way for the airport in question.
At Helsinki Airport, you can loan a wheelchair either right by the main entrance or, alternatively, it will be brought to you after you have handed in your assistive devices. You can go to the Special Assistance counter to do your check-in and put your aid in the hold. If necessary, you will also get an assistant who will escort you to the departure gate of your flight.
It’s good to note that the protective bags you can get at Helsinki Airport are not necessarily available in other destinations, and you might, thus, have to pack your walking aid in another way, which might not be free of charge. Although you can travel with your rollator to your departure gate, it’s often easier to leave it to the hold at check-in, and, if necessary, transfer to the airport's loan wheelchair. This way you can pack your equipment more calmly than in a rush at the gate. This also gives the airport personnel more time to safely transfer your aid to the hold.
Alicante Airport did not have a separate service desk for those in need of assistance. Instead, everyone besides the ones with priority tickets had to wait in one line. This is good to be aware of if you struggle with standing. In Alicante, those being assisted and their assistants went through the security check via a different route, while at Helsinki Airport, we went to the priority queue. Thus, the policies at airports may vary, but you should not be afraid of that.”
3. Express that you might need help and assistance
“At the departure gate, it’s a good idea to tell the gate agents about your limited mobility, because they won’t necessarily notice you if you can stand and walk and are no longer sitting on the borrowed wheelchair. This way you get guidance and help and get to be one of the first ones to board the plane.
If standing is very difficult for you, you should not give away the borrowed wheelchair too early before boarding the plane. On the other hand, it can also be good to walk a little before sitting still for a long time on a flight.
Also on the flight, you should mention to the cabin crew your reduced mobility if you will be getting the assistance service on arrival and are unsure how this will be handled at the destination. For instance, in Alicante, we disembarked the plane from the right side of it with a separate lifting device, while other passengers exited from the door on the left side of the plane by going down the stairs.
If walking or going down/up the stairs is difficult for you, you can trust that there is another way to get off the plane, as long as you have asked for help in advance and informed that walking stairs is difficult for you.”
4. Don't stay still for the entire flight, if possible
“During the flight, it’s recommended to move around, and at least walk to the toilet, so that after the flight you won’t be completely stiff and moving be even more difficult. Shaking and moving your legs also helps to get the blood circulating. Even after four hours of flight time, the difference can be noticeable, and walking can feel very heavy if you haven’t moved at all during your flight.”
5. Trust the process
“Although things may happen slightly differently at different airports, you can trust that they have been thought through and everything will be taken care of. Even if you may not have a common language with your assistant, you can count on them and their help. They will take you to the right place.
You also don’t have to stress about every little detail of your trip, the assistant will take care of, for example, your carry-on baggage and help you through the security check. On the other hand, being nervous is only natural and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. As things become more familiar to you and you’ve experienced round-trip flights, flying becomes less exciting and therefore easier every time.”
+ Travelling alone compared to travelling with a travel companion?
“Travelling with your loved ones feels perhaps a little freer or more relaxed. With an assistant, things are handled more straightforwardly, and you will basically be taken directly to your gate. Of course, if you need to pick up some food or go to the toilet, you can ask your assistant to take you before going to the departure gate. Whether you fly alone or with your family, both trips are comfortable and manageable, and you shouldn’t stress too much about flying alone either.”
Sandra travelled south from Alicante to Torrevieja on Costa Blanca. She can warmly recommend the destination for people with reduced mobility, as accessibility is excellently taken into account everywhere, with lowered street corners and ramps. There are even beaches with chairlifts for the disabled. Finnair flies to sunny Alicante a few times a week throughout the year.