• Learn: Travel •
According to the US Census Bureau, there are 54 million disabled Americans. Over the past century, we have grown as a society by leaps and bounds when it comes to acknowledging the rights of the disabled. Laws have been enacted throughout the entire western world that provide us with the opportunity to be treated as equals, to be accommodated throughout our daily lives so that we may feel at ease, so that our safety may be ensured. These efforts made by lawmakers, corporations, and the average citizen should not be interpreted as 'special treatment', but rather as a sincere attempt to level the playing field.
These attempts at giving us all an equal opportunity at life are incredibly evident in the world of transportation. Subways are becoming accessible, cars are easily retrofitted for any manner of disability, and the airlines make every conceivable attempt to make your journey safe and uneventful.
In every instance, every disabled individual should take advantage of any opportunity that will enable you safe and comfortable transportation, be it on planes, trains, or automobiles. In this section we will attempt to provide you with whatever information necessary to facilitate your traveling needs and to keep you informed of your rights. These laws and regulations weren't just enacted for those bound to wheelchairs, but for every individual who is in some way in need of assistance, compassion, or consideration. We can all honor the efforts of those who established these new societal norms by taking advantage of the benefits they provide. Educate yourself and bon voyage!
The Department of Transportation (DoT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have made extraordinary efforts to open the skies to everyone, regardless of the state of their health or physical agility. There are all sorts of laws and regulations working behind the scenes to ensure that when you fly, you can fly with safety and confidence no matter what your disability. Unfortunately, most air travelers misunderstand these laws and how they work for each and every one of us. Too many people assume that these laws apply only to the wheelchair-bound traveler. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
Many toe amputees, especially soon after the amputation, become extra sensitive about the safety of their feet. They worry about their feet being stepped on, their unprotected no-toes somehow becoming injured. This worry is no more apparent than when you're in cramped quarters with a bunch of other busy people with busy feet; for instance, the crowded aisles on modern aircraft.
I have yet to meet a traveler who actually enjoys the whole boarding process. Your fellow travelers can become impatient in the chaos of getting to their seats. Luggage is being hoisted over everyone else's heads, and feet are shuffling in narrow aisles. For nervous toe amputees, this can be a recipe for disaster. One wrong move by one hurried passenger can mean a foot smashing your no-toe, causing considerable pain and ruining the rest of your flight.
There's no longer any reason to worry: the friendly folks at the DoT & the FAA have considered the danger inherent in this situation and have come up with many ways to set your mind at ease. Airlines throughout the United States are required to adhere to the FAA's Air Carrier Access regulations and the DoT's Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel guidelines, which establish your rights as a disabled American. Many European nations have also adopted similar regulations, so regardless of your nation of origin or your destination, you have every right to be free from fear of injury. These laws are simple, common sense guidelines that all disabled passengers should familiarize themselves with. The Department of Transportation has provided a wonderful guide to explain your rights both in the airport and on any aircraft in the United States. You can find it here.
While most important information is contained in that guide, we would like to add a few tidbits about how this applies to you as a toe amputee. Unfortunately not many people are aware of how difficult this particular disability can be, and therefore you may face a little difficulty in requesting assistance.
First and most importantly, if your foot is at all fragile, you will need to avoid those crowded aisles during boarding. Because of the aforementioned potential danger in boarding, the FAA has outlined that every individual with a disability of any kind has the right to preboard the aircraft. Yet again, too many people assume this right is only for those in a wheelchair, but that simply isn't so. You have just as much a right to this as the next person; don't be afraid to request it! If it's a matter of your safety, it's never too much to ask.
To preboard, all you need do is arrive at the gate about half an hour before your flight begins to board - just as you should under any circumstances. As soon as you arrive at the gate, talk to one of the attending gate agents and say simply: "I am disabled, may I please be allowed to preboard the aircraft?" If the gate agent has been well trained, they should say yes without any further questions. Unfortunately this isn't always the case. If the gate agent has any sort of question about just how disabled you are, you only need further add that you are an amputee. At that point they will either write a code on your ticket that will allow you to preboard, or simply instruct you to stand near the jetway door so that they can escort you when the time comes.
Just like in every day life, you may unfortunately run into a gate agent who isn't exactly tolerant or accepting of disabilities. However, no matter their personal opinions on the rights of the disabled, it is against the law for them to deny you the right to preboard. If they attempt to do so, you have several options. It is important to state, though, that you must never ever lose your composure. As we all know, security is always paramount at airports - you do not want to cause a scene and risk not getting on your flight at all. If the gate agent attempts to deny you preboarding, explain as much of your situation as you are comfortable with. If all else fails, you have the right to ask to speak to a supervisor or an individual known as a Complaints Resolution Officer.
Every airline is required by law to have a Complaints Resolution Officer at every airport. These individuals are responsible for handling all complaints, specifically those involving the mistreatment of the disabled. If the gate agent becomes the least bit rude with you and you feel discriminated against, do not hesitate to ask for the officer. You have every right to preboard that plane in the name of safety! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If you feel you need it, the right is yours; it is there for your protection.
Once you are safely on the plane, there are many regulations regarding the use of the plane's lavatories. Many aircraft these days only have lavatories at the front and back of the plane, and oftentimes the lavatories at the very front are reserved for the use of the first class passengers. It is important to note that this practice isn't an act of class discrimination - since September 11th, there are many security concerns about letting too many passengers toward the front of the plane. It is for this reason that coach passengers are asked to use the lavatories toward the back of the plane.
That doesn't mean, however, that if you are seated toward the front that you will be forced to traverse cramped and dangerous aisles when you have to use the lavatory. If your foot is still fragile and you're nervous about walking that great distance, you have the right to use the first class facilities. However, there are a few things you should do to ensure your rights and avoid what might be seen as a potential safety threat.
When boarding the plane, there will always be a flight attendant standing near the doorway, greeting the passengers. This attendant is typically the one in charge of the crew and is the one responsible for ensuring the safety and accommodation of all disabled passengers. As soon as you board the plane, before taking your seat, it would be wise to speak with this attendant and explain your situation. Without going into detail, ask him/her, "I am disabled and I am concerned about walking to the back of the plane to use the facilities; if I should need the use of the lavatory during the flight, may I please have access to the first class area?" By warning the flight attendant ahead of time, you should be able to use the closest lavatories with ease without frightening anyone on the crew. This will save everyone a lot of trouble and make your flight that much easier.
As simple as all of this may sound, you may come across an airline employee who isn't exactly the most understanding person in the world. If at any time you feel discriminated against or embarrassed while traveling, there are many ways for you to rectify the situation. If a gate agent questions you too harshly about preboarding, there are consequences. If you are denied the right to preboard, that employee has violated the law. If the flight attendant is rude to you and denies your right to use the first class lavatories, that is also against government regulations. Don't sit idly by and let people walk all over you! If you are discriminated against and do nothing, it will only encourage this intolerable behavior and lead to further discrimination against other disabled passengers. Take a stand for your rights and the rights of others! Make an effort to complain to the airline, and if necessary, file complaints with the agencies responsible for overseeing your rights in the sky.
In the event of discrimination, it is recommended that you first contact the customer relations department of the offending airline. As concisely and coolly as possible, explain the circumstances of the discrimination and how it made you feel. Give the airline adequate time to reply to your complaint and attempt to rectify the situation. If, however, their attempts are less than adequate, it may be necessary for you to register a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
The DoT keeps a database of discrimination complaints against all airlines, and if a certain airline should develop a pattern of discrimination, this can result in fines and/or the revocation of that airline's license. This is serious! If we all just sat back and tolerated discriminatory behavior, no advances would ever be made to accept and accommodate the disabled. Don't be afraid to file complaints when necessary.
To do so, visit and follow the instructions listed there. It's a simple process and every complaint is investigated fairly. Take the time and help ensure that these unfortunate circumstances will never be repeated.
If you have had an unfortunate circumstance with any particular airline, we would like to hear about it! We here at NoToes.com want to keep a database of our own so that other toe amputees can be made aware of various airlines' attitudes toward amputees. If you were treated rudely or discriminated against in any way, please let us know the circumstances of this unfortunate event and what you did to bring it to the attention of the airline. Tell us how the airline responded, if they attempted to rectify the situation, and if you were satisfied with their response. This will help educate other amputee travelers and hopefully bring to light any corporate patterns of discrimination. Email your story to us!
Alternatively, if an airline behaved exemplarily when it came to making sure your journey was safe and tailored to your needs, we'd love to shout their praises! Tell us what they did and we'll share your stories here on the website.