Airports in the UAE: the accessible services for travellers with special needs

As the UAE continues to welcome tourists from around the world, the country’s airports are working on improving facilities for those with special needs

DXB will ban single use plastics from next year. Courtesy Dubai Airports
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Travelling solo when you have restricted mobility, or taking a holiday with children or companions who have special needs, means that journeys need to be carefully planned.

Often, just the prospect of passing through security or checking in bags (things to which other passengers give little thought) can put people of determination off travelling.

While every passenger is different and there's no one-size-fits-all rule, there are many facilities that can help make travelling easier for everyone. The majority of these services are provided directly by airlines, and passengers who wish to make use of them should inform airlines at the time of booking, or at least 48 hours before travel.

From wheelchair accessible e-gates to way-finder kiosks, here’s a look at some of the accessible services on offer at airports across the country.

Dubai International Airport

Having recently rebranded to be more immersive, entertaining and interactive, DXB is designed to help wheelchair-­using passengers whizz through security and immigration, thanks to dedicated queues for those with restricted mobility.

Throughout the airport, there are low-level drinking fountains that wheelchair users can get up close to, while people of determination have access to two dedicated lounges. The airport is equipped with ambulifts for passengers who have difficulty navigating aircraft steps when flights land or depart a distance from the main concourse. Free valet parking for holders of disabled permits is available at all terminals and wheelchair accessible taxis can be requested.

If travelling with luggage is a challenge, Dubai's home check-in service can help. Passengers flying with Emirates can use the airline's baggage collection service, while those flying from Terminals 1 or 2 can use DUBZ by data to send luggage for check-in before time. If you're landing at Dubai and need baggage assistance, an on-arrival porter service is available for Dh20.

Customers looking for a more dedicated service or who want to make their own arrangements for reduced mobility or special-needs services, can book with Marhaba. Services include providing assistance from aircraft seat to cabin wheelchair to airport wheelchair, help contacting hotels or friends and family on arrival, and assistance to lounges or departure gates.

Abu Dhabi International Airport

As the capital's primary transport hub Abu Dhabi International Airport has installed dedicated counters for passengers with special needs at immigration desks, and offers e-gates with wheelchair access. In Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, way-finding kiosks have been installed to help passengers easily navigate their way. All passengers need to do is scan their boarding pass on the kiosk and they'll get turn-by-turn directions to their assigned gate, as well as any updated flight information.Airport buggies are on hand to help passengers with restricted mobility get around the airport with ease, and there are dedicated seating areas for people of determination at Terminals 1 and 3.

Custom-built wheelchairs with lap and chest seat belts are available and travellers can request information cards filled with personal details to help staff understand their specific needs when other means of communication are not possible. If you're travelling into the capital and want to book special requests, including meet-and-greet services or guided transfers through immigration or customs, Pearl Assist offers a variety of travel assistance packages starting at about Dh200.

Sharjah International Airport

Passengers travelling to or from Sharjah will find an airport that is very manageable in terms of size and equipped with a variety of facilities to assist travellers with reduced mobility or special needs. These include free parking spaces, free-to-hire wheelchairs and porter services for helping travellers with luggage.

If the traveller has a hearing impairment, dedicated staff trained in sign language can help you out – visit any of the customer services desks for assistance. If passengers with reduced mobility or special needs are travelling alone, they can request a gate pass for a non-travelling escort to accompany them through the airport, including through immigration, security and to their gate.

There’s no charge for the service but passengers need to apply at a customer service desk at least four hours ahead of departure time and the accompanying passenger must bring an Emirates ID or valid passport and passport size photograph with them.

More specialised services can also be booked with Hala Services, which offers a range of meet and greet options, lounge access and more, with package prices starting at Dh180.

Ras Al Khaimah International Airport

It may be small, but Ras Al Khaimah International Airport has passengers with restricted access on its radar. As well as having wheelchairs available for hire and bathrooms for disabled passengers, the airport has ambulifts for passengers who cannot navigate steps to the aircraft. As the airport continues to develop amid ambitious tourism plans for the emirate, further services for people of determination are expected to be introduced.