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Holiday Travel Guide | SPECIAL NEEDS

There's Help for Travelers With Disabilities

New security rules pose challenges for seniors and those with mobility problems, but assistance is readily available.


Travelers who are elderly or who have mobility problems can still expect assistance from airline and airport personnel, but like everyone else who travels in this era of tightened security, they should brief themselves on new policies beforehand and check with their airline, either by telephone or Web site, for specifics.

Airline passengers with disabilities are protected under the Air Carrier Access Act, a 1986 law designed to prevent discrimination in air travel on the basis of disability and to require airlines to accommodate the needs of disabled passengers. Airline officials say they make every effort to help, even allowing family or friends to accompany the disabled traveler to the gate if there is a medical need to do so.

Travelers with mobility problems who are departing from Los Angeles International Airport have several options, says airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles, even with curbside pickups and drop-offs from private vehicles still outlawed. They can drive themselves to LAX and park in remote lots B (111th Street and La Cienega Boulevard) or C (96th Street and Sepulveda Boulevard), then take an LAX shuttle to the airport. "All LAX shuttles are equipped with a wheelchair lift," Castles says. Travelers also can park at private off-site parking lots, which also offer wheelchair-accessible shuttles. (It's advisable to call ahead and alert them of your need.)

Disabled travelers can also drive into the central terminal area and park in a structure near their departure terminal. If their vehicle displays a handicap license plate or placard, they can park for free in any available metered space in the structures. (Metered stalls are found on the arrival level of parking structures 1, 2A and 7.) If no metered places are available, drivers can enter through a ticket gate (found on both the arrival and departure levels) and park in one of the designated handicap spaces near the elevator on every level. They must pay for parking there.

Elderly or disabled travelers who are taken to LAX can be dropped off at Lot B or C or at the new drop-off area at 9011 Airport Blvd. (north of Westchester Parkway/Arbor Vitae Street), where they can pick up a shuttle to the airport.

Under the Federal Aviation Administration's new security directives, only ticketed passengers are allowed past security checkpoints and at the gates, with some exceptions for "persons with special needs who need to be accompanied by health care assistants or guardians" and for people meeting minors traveling alone.

Passengers with disabilities can get assistance from airline personnel, who will escort them to the gate just as they did before the new security measures took effect. As before, those needing help should request it at the airline ticket counter.

If you're meeting an arriving traveler with special needs, you can also ask the airline for help, Castles says. Call ahead and ask to have airline personnel wheel the passenger to the baggage claim area or the terminal curbside.

They will generally also assist a traveler across to the parking structure if requested, airline representatives say.

But if friends or family members want to accompany a disabled passenger to or from the gate, they must now get permission from the airline and demonstrate need, Castles says. Policies vary from airline to airline, but most will give the helper some sort of printed document granting permission. With the airline's approval, the helper "can go to the boarding gate but not on the plane." The difference between the current policy and the one employed before Sept. 11, Castles says, is that helpers must get the permit to go past the security checkpoints.


Kathleen Doheny writes the "Healthy Traveler" column.

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