Dementia is recognised as a cognitive disability by the United Nations and through The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

People living with Dementia and Cognitive Disabilities are legally entitled to assisted travel including assistance from the point of arrival at their departure airport till they leave their destination airport.

It is not something that could be provided or that is done as a favour, it is our right.

Sadly, the recent experiences of people I know in Manchester and Brussels turned assisted travel into perceived assisted rights abuses.

The Civil Aviation Authority states on it’s website:

Your rights in the EU

If you’re a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility you are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when travelling by air.

This means airports and airlines must provide help and assistance, which is free of charge, and helps ensure you have a less stressful journey.

Special assistance is available to passengers who may need help to travel such as the elderly, those people with a physical disability, such as wheelchair users, and those who have difficulty with social interaction and communication, such as those with autism or dementia.

Your right to special assistance is stipulated in EU law and applies when:

  • You fly on any airline from an EU airport
  • You fly on an EU registered airline to an EU airport

Passengers who want special assistance should aim to give their airline 48 hours notice of the help they require.

Help is available from the moment you arrive at an airport and can cover:

  • your journey through your departure airport
  • boarding the aircraft and during the flight
  • disembarking the aircraft
  • transferring between flights
  • travelling through your destination airport.

Details of special assistance services provided by all airlines and UK airports

Outside the EU

Similar passenger rights apply in other countries including the United States. However, there are many parts of the world where similar rights are not available. Assistance may require a fee or not be available at all.

The CAA’s role

We want to make sure everyone has fair access to air travel. We work with industry to make this happen by promoting special assistance and improving the consistency of the service available.

We also understand things can go wrong and we ask anyone who has a complaint relating to special assistance to call the CAA Passenger Advice and Complaints Team on 0330 022 1916.

We respond to and review all complaints received and can use our enforcement powers if any patterns relating to non-compliance emerge.

When should I ask?

You should ask for assistance either when you book or at least 48 hours before travel, whether it is through a travel agent, tour operator or airline. This information will then be passed to the airport and the service provider.

If you don’t give advance notice you could experience delays and may not receive the service that you need.

How can I request help?

It is up to you to find out how to request help. Airlines, travel agents and tour operators should provide a free method of requesting assistance when you book (or at later stage). You may be asked about about special assistance during the booking process but this isn’t standard practice so you may need to make a request.

If you are booking on a website, look out for a special assistance link for information on how to get the type of help that you need.

Your travel service provider may ask you to telephone them or their agent or complete a web form. Many airlines provide a Freephone or local rate number for you to call to notify them of your assistance needs. Some airlines also offer a free call-back option.

What can I ask for?

It is important that you are clear about the type of help that you need. This will help avoid delays and ensure that you receive appropriate support. Many airports also provide additional information tailored specifically to people with hidden disabilities.

This could include:

  • transfer from a designated point, such as car part or bus stop, to the terminal building
  • the use of an airport wheelchair to get to the gate
  • extra help getting through security searches
  • assistance with boarding the aircraft and getting seated
  • specific seats on the aircraft

Airlines will need to know:

  • you are taking an electric mobility aid (e.g. an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter)
  • your condition means that you need extra care and attention

Questions that you may wish to consider in advance include:

  • Are on-board wheelchairs available on all aircraft? These are used to move people to the toilet during the flight.
  • What are the walking distances to departure gates? Airports should provide this information on their websites.
  • Does the airport uses air bridges or steps for passengers to board aircraft?
  • The number and type of accessible toilets at the airport and on board aircraft.
  • What restrictions (e.g. safety, weight, space, battery type) apply to the carriage of electric mobility aids.
  • The airline’s policies on carriage of oxygen.
  • The airline’s policies in relation to compensating for damaged mobility equipment.
  • The types of seats available and how the airline allocates these.
  • Restrictions on medication at security searches (especially relating to liquids).
  • When should I check in?

    Airlines usually specify times for checking in and getting to the departure gate. They may recommend a slightly longer time frame for passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility, so be sure to confirm this in advance of your flight.

    Assistance points

    When you arrive at the airport you should go to as assistance point. This can be inside or outside of the terminal.

    Assistance points will usually have some type of disability related logo, and include a buzzer or telephone to enable you to call for assistance should they not be staffed at that time.

    Airports must locate assistance points at various places in the airport boundary and this may include drop off points, car parks, train stations and bus terminals. If you park at a medium/long term car park you will usually need to make your own way to the terminal using the airport’s bus service. In the UK these vehicles are generally accessible, in terms of having a ramp, so that people in wheelchairs can board.

    If you need extra help at in the airport, including during security searches, airport special assistance desks can provide identification (lanyards, badges etc.) to people with hidden disabilities. These are optional.

Staff at assistance points can help with:

  • taking you to a designated “special assistance” area in the terminal building
  • getting to check-in and bag drop (if required)
  • going through security, into the departure lounge and to the departure gate

Alternatively a companion can escort you, including pushing you in an airport provided wheelchair, through the airport and up to the departure gate. If you have your own wheelchair or electric mobility aid you should be able to use your own equipment right up to the departure gate.

Many airports have a designated area in the departure lounge where you can wait until your flight is called.


Special assistance staff can help you travel through the departure gate and on to the aircraft. They will also help you get to your seat and with stowing your carry on bags if required.

To assist with this process, different equipment may be used. These include ambi-lifts (also referred to as high lifts), ramps, and small “transfer” wheelchairs which are used on the aircraft.

At your destination airport

On arrival, your wheelchair or mobility aid should be returned to you at the arrival gate, unless there are extenuating reasons.

You may be entitled to assistance through immigration, customs, baggage reclaim, and all the way to the designated arrival point, depending on the country visited. This may include some car parks, train stations, drop off points.

Resolving travel problems

If you experience any problems with your assistance which are not satisfactorily resolved at the time, we recommend asking if you can take the name of your attendant, and then raise the matter with the airline / airport.

Safety information

Airlines are responsible for communicating essential information about a flight in accessible formats.

If you require a personal or an alternative type of safety briefing it is important that you notify the airline in advance so that this can be arranged.

Airlines may make use of audio and visual materials such as safety cards and signs to communicate i.e. illumination of the seatbelt sign for landing and cabin crew checking the cabin.

Access to toilets

Airlines are also obliged to provide assistance to and from the toilet and most will have onboard wheelchairs on each of their aircraft.

It is important to discuss your onboard needs with the airline before you travel so that they can tell you about the facilities that are available and how their staff can help you.

You may also need to ask the airline to be seated as close to the toilet as possible.

How to make a Complaint

First, you should take your complaint directly to the airline or airport.

If you have already done this and are dissatisfied with the response they have provided, you can refer your complaint:

For a visual representation of this process, see our process diagram.

Both ADR bodies and PACT will advise you on whether they think you have a valid complaint, and if so will take it up with the business concerned. However, PACT cannot impose a decision on an airline while CAA-approved ADR bodies can.

Before contacting either, you will need to have written to the company concerned first, and provide either the ADR body or PACT with all the relevant information. Make sure you read these webpages carefully to avoid unnecessary delays in resolving your complaint.

Claims agencies

The CAA recommends that consumers seeking to make a complaint should complain directly to the airline or airport concerned. Although consumers are entitled to use third parties, including claims agencies, to assist them with their complaint, such agencies typically charge consumers a fee for this service which can often be a significant proportion of the compensation amount being sought.

The European Commission has published an Information Note for passengers making claims under Regulation 261/2004 to protect them and help them to make informed choices if they are considering using a claims agency. The key points made by the Commission are that:

  • Consumers should always seek to contact the airline first
  • Claim agencies must clearly display the price of their services, i.e. showing an initial price on their website which includes all applicable fees
  • Claim agencies must be able to produce a clear power of attorney signed by the consumer
  • Claim agencies should not resort to persistent unsolicited telemarketing
  • Personal data should not be transmitted to claims agencies without permission from the consumer and must be appropriately protected