This guidance is based on our own experience at airports. We cannot guarantee that all airports and airport staff will act in the same way.
This post ideally follows our post on Travelling Blind: At the Airport, so we suggest you read that first!
Getting to the Gate
Remember… Don't get too carried away people-watching or duty-free shopping... you have a plane to board.
I check the departure board by taking a picture on my phone and zooming in. As soon as the gate number is announced, I like to head to the gate. Some airports are massive, so it can sometimes take a significant 20-minute walk to reach the gate. If this is too far for you to walk, or too inaccessible to navigate (airports can be confusing!), we suggest heading to the information desk. They may be able to provide you with a buggy if one is free to take you. If not, they may offer to take you in a wheelchair.
I struggle to read the gate numbers even though they are usually huge. Though, I have realised that, at most airports, they will run in a number/letter sequence. Please take note that at some airports, they have an A and B version of a gate, e.g., 21A and 21B. These are usually found together. Some gates also require you to go up or down stairs, which is why we really advise asking for assistance at this point.
Once you finally arrive at the gate, you may find that boarding has not yet started. Most airlines have a similar order for boarding priorities, allowing those who require extra time to board first. This time is regardless of whether you have booked a seat with your companions. I recommend using this time as it will allow you to find your seat without the pressure of someone waiting behind you.
For some airlines, it has always been beneficial to advise of my disability when making my booking. This is then printed on your boarding pass, so the gate agent will allow you to board first. By the gate/door to the jetty, you can usually locate priority boarding seats. The gate agents are then able to identify you and are always very informative about boarding. This puts me at ease, so I do not usually feel too nervous at this point.
The bit that does make me nervous is when I have to walk down the jetty. These things bounce and move slightly as people walk down them. They also have little ramps where each section joins together. If you are travelling alone, a ground agent can escort you down the jetty and onto the plane.
Boarding the Plane
Finding my seat is another thing that gives me anxiety when I am travelling! The tiny seat numbers are usually found above the seats where the overhead bins are placed. When boarding, the cabin crew will often direct you to the side of the plane where your seat is located. When I'm travelling alone, I ask to be shown my seat; otherwise, Jade finds our seats when she is with me.
I take my seat and then fidget for the next ten minutes (we are all guilty of it). Up and down. Put my bag in the overhead lockers. Get it back out again as I forgot something…
When I finally settle, I look around and figure out where the toilets and the emergency exits are located.
If you have requested assistance, the crew is likely to give you a one-to-one safety talk. This is something I always find useful. At this point, I also make the crew aware that they should not give me a glass with my meal/drink and ask for a plastic cup or a water bottle (I'm known for spilling drinks on Jade). They may also tell you the meal options and leave the menu with you.
Once most people settle, they might check out the entertainment on the flight (this is usually only on long-haul flights). I am not able to see the TV screens as they are far too small for my vision. However, some airlines might offer a visual-impaired iPad where all the movies have audio description.
Once I have got my bearings, got my snacks and white cane in the seat pocket in front of me, and had my safety chat with the crew, I sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.