Travel Series: Flying with Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airplane
Southwest Airplane

For individuals with disabilities who want to travel during the holiday season, accessibility on airplanes and at airports becomes a concern. In fact, accessibility during travel for these individuals is a concern year round. Luckily, some airlines have made it a top priority to accommodate and ease the travel experience for people who may be in need of additional help.

Southwest Airlines has a number of attributes that make it a top contender in the airline service sector. Their tickets are competitively priced, passengers do not have to pay to stow their luggage, and they have worked tirelessly to become a premier airline when it comes to offering services for individuals with disabilities.

The following is a list of services offered for customers with a physical disability:

  • Airport wheelchairs for use in the airport are available once you have relinquished your personal chair to be stowed.
  • Assistance while boarding before other passengers.
  • A small wheelchair that can fit down the aircraft aisle is available at every gate.
  • Each gate is equipped with a Passenger Transfer Kit (PTK), which contains a slide board and a transfer sling. The sling allows for two or three employees to lift the customer safely from his/her wheelchair into the small wheelchair and then into the aircraft seat.
  • The first two rows (at a minimum) on each aircraft are equipped with movable aisle armrests.
  • Employees who are trained on assisting customers into and out of the aircraft seat; however, the customer being transferred knows the best way for them to help, therefore assisted customers are encouraged  to direct the employees in how best to perform the lift and transfer so everyone will be most comfortable, and so that there will be a successful transfer.

Below are some services offered for passengers with a cognitive disability:

  • Assistance with pre-boarding
  • Introduce the customer to the flight attendant and make the flight attendant  aware of the customer’s special needs.
  • Advise the customer that he/she needs to deplane at his/her destination or that he/she needs to remain onboard at a stopover city. Southwest cannot, however, guarantee that he/she won’t deplane at an intermediate stop if he/she does so without their knowledge.
  • Assist the customer from his/her arrival gate to his/her departure gate if his/her itinerary involves a connection. However, the customer must identify him/herself as having requested assistance when he/she arrives at the airport.

In addition, Southwest  offers services and accommodations upon request for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or have low vision, persons who need to administer medication via syringe during the flight, persons in need of trained assistance animals, individuals in need of emotional support animals, individuals who use portable oxygen concentrators (specified models), and persons using other assistive devices, such as walkers, canes, crutches, CPAP machines, etc. Southwest Airlines works hard to ensure the comfort and ease of travel for all of their passengers.

Click Here for more information on disability services and assistive technology support offered by Southwest Airlines.

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  1. Southwest is hardly the Premier Airline for the disabled. Yes! Southwest leans over backcward to get you to book a ticket. There are numerous internet articles on this non-amazing accomplishment. However, once in the airport, the dearf or hard of hearing person is out of luck. Loss of hearing is a severe yet hidden disability – hearing announcements are critical to travel departures in an airport. Just try to board without all the verbal cues that occur. It’s not possible.
    Southwest brags about its friendly efforts to make travel easy. But it excludes the hard of hearing or deIaf person. Where do I find the “services and accommodations upon request for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing” – I can’t find them – WHERE are they? It’s not rocket science to create a liason program for hard of hearing or deaf passengers. The open boarding system is a total handicap for the deaf or hard of hearing. If the seat was assigned or reserved for such persons, life would be almost easy on a plane. Remember: Southwest knows how to sell a ticket to this person!;It also handily forgets these people once the credit card clears. The flight attendant would know that emergencies, common courtesies and just plain communication might be differently necessary to accomodate these passengers. Not long ago I was chastised by a flight attendant for accidentally sitting in an exit row. She humiliated me loudly (even I could hear her) when all she needed to do was reseat me gracefully. There was no doubt: I was not a passenger to whom she should be polite. The ultimate scourge of deafness – no one hears or listens to our complaints?.They are so inconvenient! How strange, the role reversal. The company defended the employee and gave me lots of “pretty” empty reconciliation.
    Until Southwest figures out that I’m in more jeopardy than the reverse (me sitting in an exit row) I will continue to insist that the airline is ignoring its responsibilities and would greatly appreciate the same consideration it gives to its hearing passengers.

  2. I broke my ankle after I purchased my ticket, so I want to know what I should do to get help at the airport while wearing my cast and where do I sit on the airplane?

    Thank you,

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