Everyone worries about the absolutely blind and those in a wheelchair. Not many in the aviation industry give much concern to those who have some vision, say enough to get around without a guide-dog. This could be travellers with low vision, or simply someone who needs glasses to get around, but may have had them trodden on by an elephant in Thailand.
People with any sort of sight problem may largely have to take care of themselves!
The first and very useful thing to know, is that most airlines offer what is called a ‘meet and assist’ service. This is often free and is available for check in, transit and arrival at the final destination. You would have to provide certain particulars about yourself and why you require the service. If you’re legally blind or partially sighted, it would be very unusual if they did not confirm your request. Some airlines don’t offer this and it would be best to check, before paying for your ticket.
Now that we’re on-board and seated, what next? Entertainment provided on-board helps pass the time on a long flight and has us feeling much more relaxed on arrival. How can you make this more enjoyable, with low vision? By making sure that the airline you’re travelling with provides you with your very own screen. Not one of those flights, which I recently experienced, where there is one screen up on the bulkhead. The Middle Eastern carriers, like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, have state-of-the-art entertainment systems, where you have access to video channels, music channels and flight tracking.
Some South African Airways long haul flights have one tiny television-style display at the front of the cabin. Frankly, the chances are that if you are not already visually impaired at the start of the flight, you will be well on your way by the time you land.
The following advice may sound totally arbitrary, but it really works. An airline with a logo that is bright and can be seen clearly, is a help. This makes it easier to find the right check-in counter more quickly. If you wish to ask for assistance, that is fine, but if you don’t, this is just one of the ‘tricks’ to travelling by yourself, independently.
Reading the departure boards (which in some cases is the only way you can find out the departure gate) can also be a difficulty for low-vision travellers. The suggestion given by one observer, “use binoculars”, though maybe useful in other contexts is just going to mark you as a potential mugging victim. You may need to swallow your pride and ask for help.