Flying after stroke can be a stressful experience and for many stroke survivors the thought of flying can bring about increased anxiety.
Matthew Wilson who is Accessibility & PRM Manager at Edinburgh Airport answered our members questions regarding flying after a stroke. Edinburgh airport are doing lots of great work to ensure passengers with additional needs are understood, they said:
“We know that flying can sometimes be a frightening experience, and the airport environment can also be challenging.
We’re committed to making sure our passengers have the best experience possible and have been working in partnership with local organisations and industry experts to help passengers who might need a little extra assistance.”
Thank you to our members who sent in the following questions and to Matthew Wilson for taking the time to answer them.
Q: How can airports help make the flying experience easier for stroke survivors generally? What sort of support is available?
“Certainly for me, the worst part was actually fear. Fear that flying would cause another stroke, fear that I wasn’t processing the information correctly. Repeated flying has reduced both of those and if I’d had this information to hand the first time it would definitely have helped.”
A: We have put considerable information on our airport website, including a very detailed access guide, which should hopefully help those individuals who haven’t flown before. Furthermore we offer an ‘Additional Needs’ service again advertised on our website and where you can ask us any question you want about how we can assist you through the airport.
Q: Sensory Overload
“As a matter of background, I am a 32 year old stroke survivor. The damage to my left thalamus produced a deficit in sensory processing. Therefore, my brain gets overloaded in public spaces due to multiple noise and stimuli exposure. This overload generally triggers an acute pain in my head, leading to the “flight, fight or freeze” response. With the help of the community stroke team, I have adopted coping strategies to enable me to walk in busy environments, commute to work and use public transport. The coping strategy mainly involves the use of (a) tailored earplugs that are connected to my i-phone, (b) industrial noise protection Ear defenders, (c) sunglasses, (d) crutch. Other side effects include headaches and fatigue.
I travelled 5 times by plane and these experiences have been consistently traumatic, especially outside the UK. My suggestions for improvements include:
Special assistance.Could you include ‘sensory overload’ in the medical conditions covered by the Special Assistance? It seems that airports are well prepared to assist on mobility issues, being blind, deaf or having learning issues; but that sensory overload as an ‘invisible disability’ is not on their radar.
A: Our ‘Additional Needs’ service would be happy to customise assistance for those passengers with specific needs, please see our website for details of this along with contact details.
Q: Scan area. This is the most stressful stage and noisier area of the airport from my point of view. The ‘bipping’ of the scanners and metal detectors, the noise of the trays clashing, the complexity of the rules and logistics required, and generalized stress ensure the brain fatigue and sensory overload. The passenger with sensory overload is asked to remove all the devices used to deal with noise and light sensitivity in order to proceed with the security controls. If we refuse then we are asked to wait in the middle of the chaos until a more senior officer arrives to the scanner and decide what to do. Could you offer a quiet area where we can comfortably be scanned without being exposed to distress?
A: We offer a separate private search room which you can request upon arriving at security, all UK airports at least have to provide this, you do not have to provide any reason for requesting a private search. This will be more detailed than normal however you may have an accompanying person with you and the search will be carried out by two security officers.
Q: Quiet waiting rooms. Could the passenger suffering from sensory overload should be given the option to wait in a quite environment both before and after the scan area? For example, Heathrow, terminal 5 has a good waiting room for disabled people, while Gatwick is rather chaotic and the waiting area is in the middle of the stores and dining tables.
A: We are looking to provide a similar facility to LHR T5 within our new terminal expansion for our airside waiting area. Our landside waiting area is already separate from our passenger flows as a separate room, if another quiet area was desired, separate from other assistance passengers, then we recommend our prayer room landside which is generally empty.
Q: Landing. Could the passenger be received by a member of the staff that is awareof the sensory overload and fatigue in order to assist in the best way possible? Passport control areas sometimes are noisy if there are long queues. This is generally mitigated by special assistance by being fast tracked. It would be ideal to be able to wait for the luggage in a quiet room and be helped to the taxi.
A: Unfortunately we don’t have facilities in the baggage areas to provide a quiet room, we can and do however as a matter of procedure fast track assistance passengers through immigration and we could find a quieter area as best we can on request. We don’t get many details from airlines about passengers with hidden or other disabilities, just a code called DPNA (Disabled Passenger Needing Assistance), so advance planning is hard for us, this is irrespective of the detail you may provide the airline.
Q: “I haven’t flown yet but I wonder if I would get through the scanner with my titanium screws holding the piece of acrylic on my skull?”
A: This may activate the metal detector however should not appear on the security scanner (new scanning devices in use in most UK airports), regardless the search process will quickly indicate that you have nothing around your skull (as you should already have removed any hats etc.) which is a prohibited article and you will be allowed through.
Q:“Purely hypothetical (hypodermic!), just wondering whether there were generally any restrictions by the airlines on meds? Presumably tablets are OK? What about insulin pens/needles?”
A: Provided there is a medical proof that you require such devices with you then yes, these are permitted to be taken through security and into the aircraft cabin. Tablets are ok without proof.
Q: My stroke has left me with foot drop, to help reverse this I have a battery powered electronic walking device called an FES ( functional electronic stimulation ) It is quite impossible to remove the device as my version is in the form of sticky pads on my leg with wires which lead to a battery pack at my waist. Plus my mobility is impaired without this walking aid. What proof of medical need do I need to have with me as I pass through security?
A: Any legitimate documentary evidence, signed by your medical professional, stating what can and cannot be done regarding your FES would be acceptable. I would suggest that you may wish to request a private search such that the security team can easily see around your device, which may involve loosening or removing outer clothing, without causing you embarrassment. Whilst the team are made aware of a variety of medical implants and devices as you can imagine there is a large variety/variation and we have a large security team who will only be exposed to such equipment infrequently, a private search would help all parties.
Q: It’s very difficult for me to remove belts and shoes before going through security and repacking my hand luggage if my bag has been chosen for a random check. Last time I was very rushed by the staff trying to get their job done quickly. The problem is I do not look disabled as I’m not in a chair and I do not have a sticks, I have little use of one hand so it’s a tricky operation repacking a bag, refitting shoes and belts and getting out of the way in a busy airport.
I need to sit down to take off and put back on my shoes, is there a line for disabled people who are allowed more time? I feel awful asking for assistance when it’s just extra time that a need going through the security system.
A: Please request one of our hidden disability lanyards (available on request through our website or from our special assistance reception) and use our family lane, this lane expects that the passengers using it will require additional time and is staffed accordingly. The lanyard will alert staff that you may require extra time or consideration. We also have extensive repacking areas where you can take your trays and staff that can assist with that on request, so you can repack out of the ‘flow’ and in your own time.
Edinburgh Airport are holding a disability community consultation group, following a Passengers with Reduced Mobility Open Day in February,the event will take place on 31st August 2017 between 10am and 2pm
If you wish to attend this day contact Edinburgh Airport directly via their website feedback form here: www.edinburghairport.com