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Traveling by Air, Part 1 Article

Traveling by air as a blind person does not have to be an intimidating experience. With a few tips, the novice and expert alike can ensure a smooth process.

When traveling on an airplane, you should feel as comfortable as possible to ensure an enjoyable experience. Gone are the days when people felt compelled to wear suits to fit the classy business image. Now, even executives claim to use sweats and other comfortable clothing to make the flight as comfortable as possible.

Remember these days it is possible to make your reservations over the Internet. If the website proves difficult to navigate, you may call the airline by phone and ask that the telephone rates be waived. Keep in mind that taking this route may result in your not being able to take advantage of online discounts, and while organizations like the NFB are working to ensure website accessibility, you will need to find the best course of action to make your reservation. If at all possible, try to check into your flight in advance to avoid having to stand in line to obtain your pass. If you have to check in luggage, you’ll need to approach a counter or curb-side check-in anyway, but checking into your flight in advance means you’ll have the opportunity to choose your seat if this was not done while purchasing your ticket or unless you’re flying with Southwest Airlines.

When you arrive at the airport keep in mind that most airline counters will be arranged in a central area. Of course you have to take into considerations that different airports are set up in different ways, but your ground transportation will usually drop you off at an entrance that is most closely located to your particular airline counter. Now all you have to do is find the lines that correspond with your counter. Sound difficult? Sometimes you may need to keep your ears open for people walking by to ask where the counter is located. Listen for heels, rolling suitcases and chattering kids who may be walking with their parents. You will be surprised at how willing people are willing to answer your questions, and who knows, if you don’t ask, you may pass up someone who could be on your plane headed to the same destination.

After finding the correct line you may discover that staying in line is made easier through following the velvet ropes. Use your cane to gently tap the heel of the person in front of you. If you are using a guide dog, ask him or her to move forward until you fill the vacant space the person ahead of you has left after moving forward. If you haven’t tried all this before, you’ll get the hang of it over time with a little practice. Feel free to engage said person in conversation. Chances are fair that the person in line may be on your flight.

So, you’ve checked your bags and obtained your gate passes. While you’re at the counter you may request assistance to get to the gate. If you’re running late, asking for assistance may be prudent since you don’t want to get lost and potentially miss your flight. If you’re a diligent traveler and have over an hour to kill, consider making an adventure of finding your gate. After all, it’s much more fun to walk around exploring than it is to sit still for over an hour. What, you’ve got a book you’d rather be reading? Trust me, at 37,000 feet you won’t be doing a whole lot of walking and will have plenty of time to catch up on what happens to your favorite characters.

And speaking of story plots, isn’t it true that your characters need to overcome a conflict to make the story worth reading? Well, it’s the same concept here. You will not fully appreciate your independence unless you learn how to fully experience the joys of getting lost. I assure you real world adventures are far more fulfilling than the ones on paper or in audio.

Here’s the first major tip, when you’re at the counter, do not try to get the representative to give you the whole layout of the airport. Just ask for general directions to the security checkpoint. People vary in their ability to give directions, and if you learn how to break up your journey into small pieces, you’ll have greater success and will be less likely to get overwhelmed and frustrated. Now, assuming you’re still walking along by yourself, your task is to find the security checkpoint. With the general directions the representative gave you, you’re going to start off heading in the direction they gave and already be on the lookout for the second person who can confirm these directions. So, obtain, then verify. As you walk keep in mind the sounds you can associate with checkpoints. You will no doubt here the beep of the metal detectors. Perhaps you’ll hear the rattle of bags lumbering through the x-ray machines. Maybe frustrated security representatives admonishing people to take off shoes and pull out laptops?

Here’s the next tip: Wear shoes you can easily take off. This is not even a blindness-related tip. This is just an important point for blind and sighted people alike. If you wear complicated boots, you don’t want to be sprawled out on the floor undoing your laces while generally holding up the rest of the passengers. Also, prepare your computers to be taken out and put on the trays. Consider buying a sleeve you can use to slide the laptop in and out of your briefcase, or consider buying one of those TSA-approved briefcases you can just unzip and put through the x-ray without ever taking out the laptop. Look at your airline’s website to find out what is currently being allowed. Again, if the website does not work, pick up a phone.

Just before you get to the security checkpoint you’re going to encounter the first TSA representative who will verify your pass and identification. Ask him or her where the nearest line is to the metal detectors. Remember when asking for directions to point with your finger to make sure you fully understand where they are directing you. If you’re wrong, keep trying until you’ve got it right, or allow them to take your hand and point your finger in the right direction.

In the second part to this piece, we’ll talk about packing, researching the airport, and boarding the aircraft.

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