Travel insights from Andrea Sedlacek, editor of The Compass

Making Family Travel Accessible for Everyone

Families with members who have a disability or special needs face a unique set of challenges that are not widely discussed in the travel industry. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a 2017 report on disability-related air travel complaints for the 2016 travel year and found that there were 32,445 total complaints made by passengers regarding a disability or special need. Many of the complaints were due to a lack of assistance by the flight staff or damage to an assistive device, such as a wheelchair. Sadly, other complaints were filed about seating accommodations, service animal problems and refusal to board passengers.

Although the travel and hospitality industries have a long way to go to improve their service and accommodations to travelers with disabilities, as a travel agent, you can make an impact by helping clients research and plan – which is key to making their family vacation as stress-free as possible. Here are some useful tips to accommodate special needs when helping your clients plan their vacation.

Flight Accommodations

Before booking airfare, make sure you understand your client's needs. Then call the airline to make sure that they will be able to accommodate them. When booking the airfare, consider things like flight duration and layovers, allowing at least 90 minutes between flights so your clients have enough time to gather their things, deplane and comfortably make it to their next gate. If necessary, you can also help your clients arrange transportation to and from the airport. Taking care of these details for your clients can contribute to making their family vacation enjoyable and relaxing!


If you’re adding airport transfers onto your client’s trip, make sure this aspect of their vacation meets their needs as well. Look for ground transportation with “limited mobility.” If you don’t see that, contact the transportation company to see if they offer that option, as you may need to put in a special request.

It may also be helpful to know that other forms of transportation, like the Las Vegas Monorail and Rail Europe, are wheelchair accessible, along with public transportation.

Room Amenities

When you're helping your clients choose a hotel or resort, make sure you gather information about what accommodations are necessary and desired. For example, some travelers may need a room that allows animals, while others might need extra space or a want a private pool. It's important to understand your client's needs so that you can help them find a place that is accommodating. Then you can call the hotel or resort and ask questions like:

  • Do the rooms meet the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements? --If the answer is yes, ask what specific modifications the room has to meet the requirements.
  • Is there disabled parking available?
  • Does the hotel offer wheelchair-friendly transportation?
  • Are there attractions nearby?
  • What floors are the accessible rooms on?

Remember, some resorts have limited wheelchair accessible rooms, so you will want to make sure that you plan far in advance if your client(s) use a wheelchair.

Hotels and Resorts

Hotels, motels, inns and other places of lodging built after January 26, 1993 must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and certain regulations published by the Justice Department. This means that these places need to be accessible and useable by persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, despite the ADA requirements, a quick search online can tell you that travelers with disabilities still have difficulty finding a reliable place to stay. So we’ve compiled a list of some options that have a solid reputation for their excellent service and accommodations to those with disabilities.

  • Aria Resort & Casino – This 5-star hotel on the Vegas strip has 120 accessible rooms, all with roll-in showers. It also has rooms equipped with lifts and additional equipment is available upon request. There are accessible penthouse suites, too!
  • Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun – All rooms at this Mexican resort have roll-in showers, plus many ramps around the resort for easy access. The one drawback, however, is that the beach is not wheelchair accessible and they do not offer beach wheelchairs. But the resort is located right on the beach, so visitors with limited accessibility can still enjoy beautiful beachside views and sunsets.
  • Sandals and Beaches Resorts — Sandals and Beaches Resorts make it a priority to accommodate those with disabilities by providing accessibility guides to help travelers determine which resorts will meet their needs. Both Sandals and Beaches have accessibility guides with information for their all-inclusive luxury vacations. Beaches’ accessibility guide provides information about their resorts and their comprehensive special needs program for children.
  • The Royal Playa del Carmen — Reviews from TripAdvisor consistently recommend The Royal Playa del Carmen as one of the top places for travelers with disabilities. Although this is an adults-only resort, there are a variety of ADA-approved rooms, ramps and elevators located throughout the resort and the location is close to downtown.
  • Marriott International in Hawai’i— The Marriott International in Hawai’i not only has excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, but there are plenty of ADA-approved rooms to meet the needs of families and they have an exceptional reputation for their service to those with disabilities.

These are just a few of many resorts that offer accommodations for your clients. When you're exploring hotels and resorts make sure to read the Accommodations tab for each suite option. It should list if they are ADA compliant or have special features for those with disabilities. But always make sure to call the hotel or resort to be completely sure, as not all room accommodations are posted online. Taking these steps to diligently plan and understand your client's needs can eliminate stress so they can spend less time worrying and more time making memories with their family.

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