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Travelling as a Blind Person through Covid

background is of a plane in the sky. There are four icons in each corner - a person using a long cane, a person using a wheelchair, an icon for looped audio system and a guide dog.

There’s no doubt that traveling by air if you have a disability of any kind requires a little bit of advance planning. Depending on where you are going and with whom you are traveling, this can be as simple as letting the airline know of your disability and the type of assistance you require, or, in some cases, if you are traveling with someone else, you don’t need to do anything at all.

I’ve been traveling by air for both work and pleasure for years now, and, in general, I’ve had really positive experiences wherever I went. I’ve always found that advance planning, and communicating your requirements leads to a very smooth travel experience.

Prior to Covid-19, I found myself traveling for work on average twice a month, between Dublin, Northampton and Glasgow. February 2020 was the last time I flew until mid-September of this year.

Like everyone else I’m sure, I had a little reservation about making a journey, but I also knew that I needed to do it at some point and, there was for me a real sense of wanting to get back to some sort of normal and I really saw travel as another big step in that regard.

Booking a flight was identical to the process pre-Covid, other than a couple of additional pieces of text reminding you about new travel guidelines, wearing masks in the airport, insuring you have the necessary travel documents etc. One thing I did find however is that I hadn’t engaged with airline websites in so long I almost had to take a moment to teach myself how to do this most basic task all over again!

I flew from Dublin to Birmingham last month, for my first trip since Covid-19 with Aer Lingus. They have partnered with a 3rd-party provider called Verifly to manage your Covid-19 certification so that it can be uploaded and checked in advance. The experience with the Verifly app was unfortunately really bad, and, I’ve been told by fully sighted people that even they are struggling with it, so certainly more work is required here. It became so difficult to do anything with the app that I decided not to use it and simply have my travel documents ready for inspection.

The next piece of paperwork was the Irish government’s Passenger Locator Form, which is mandatory for all people arriving into Ireland. I was disappointed to see that this too had major accessibility challenges, and, while I did eventually complete it, the entire process took me about 40 minutes, for something that should probably take no more than five. I have alerted the Department of Foreign Affairs and I hope these issues will be rectified in time, but it is certainly something for anyone intending on traveling to be aware of.

The actual experience traveling through airports, both here and in the UK, was virtually the same. I did note in Dublin that there were very few assistance staff from the company OCS available. Like many employers, they are struggling to re-recruit staff after the pandemic, so leave plenty of time when you go to the airport as you may have a bit of a wait at the assistance desk.

Masks are mandatory when moving throughout the airport and on flights unless you have a medical condition that exempts you and you are required to provide evidence of same.

So, the overall verdict is that travel post-Covid is definitely doable and I hope to do a lot more of it in the coming months!