Mark Orwoll, seasoned traveler and Travel + Leisure's Managing Editor, is here to help you with your travel questions. Think of him as your personal concierge, and ask away...
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Q. I have a 17-year-old deaf teenager going from New Orleans to Aspen this summer. The connections have him switching planes at either Denver or Phoenix and I am concerned that he will either get lost or not be able to communicate effectively. He also has some vision loss which makes it a little more difficult for him, especially in dimly lit airports.
Do you have suggestions for me to make me feel better about this. This is his first time without parents and I am concerned about him missing his flight or getting lost in the airport.
A. Hey, your kid is growing up! Don't worry so much. It's just not necessary—especially if you notify the airline(s) in advance that your child may need some assistance. If you're booking your airfare through a travel agency, make sure the agent has notified the airlines about your child's disability; otherwise, notify the airline yourself when making the reservation. It is very likely that the airline will be able to have an employee escort your child from the arrival gate to the departure gate to make the connection onward to the final destination.
If it's possible, have your child bring carry-on luggage only to avoid having to find his way to/from the baggage carousel—that's especially good advice if he'll be changing airlines at the connecting airport, which would likely require him to collect his checked luggage and recheck it on the next airline.
With advance notification, the airline should allow your child to pre-board the aircraft. It will also insure that the gate agent alerts your child when the plane is ready for boarding.
Some airlines offer more assistance than others. Continental is one of the better airlines, for example, when it comes to assisting passengers with disabilities. Flight Information Display Systems (FIDS) are available at numerous Continental airport facilities. Every airport served by Continental has a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD), with signs marking the location. Go to your airline's Web site and do some poking around to see what assistance they offer disabled passengers.