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Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C



I've been travelling (exclusively) with SWA for years as a disabled person, and the only issue that I sometimes have is that one of my disabilities can sometimes be invisible (that is, I don't always need to use my cane or other assistive mobility devices).  When I check in and say I don't need a wheelchair, I'm told to get a pre-board ticket at the gate, which is fine.  When I get to the gate and ask, though; I'm often given the side-eye and reluctantly given the pre-board ticket because I don't look disabled.  I don't feel as if I should have to prove my disability to the gate agents, nor do I think I should have to use my assistive mobility devices on a rare day when I'm actually feeling well enough to not have to use them just to justify needing to pre-board.


You may ask why I need to pre-board if I'm feeling well, which is fair.  The way my disability works, it's basically an either/or situation - I can either walk around the airport or I can use my energy (my spoons, if one is familiar with The Spoon Theory) standing in line with my carry-ons, looking for a seat, etc.  By the time I've done all of that, I will most likely need a pre-board at my layover, so it's just easier to initiate the process from the beginning and save my spoons for the rest of the day.


Is there a way this can be addressed?


Thank you so much!


Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C

Hi Mjoos1814! I am a Southwest Employee, but I’m not speaking on behalf of the Company here. I wanted to let you know that our preboarding is offered to Customers with disabilities who require assistance with boarding, a specific seating accommodation onboard the aircraft, and/or extra time to stow an assistive device. Your privacy is important, and we cannot ask a Customer to disclose the nature of his/her disability or to provide documentation to preboard. Our Agents should ask whether the Customer needs assistance to board and if they require a specific seat onboard to accommodate a disability to determine if a Customers qualifies for preboarding. Our Employees receive training and should recognize that not all disabilities are readily apparent; however, I’m sorry if your interactions haven’t been pleasant in the past.

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C

How do I get a preboarding pass. I'm am disabled and walk with a cane. My balance is not good at times. 

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Aviator B



Prior to general boarding, preboarding is available for Customers who have specific seating needs to accommodate a disability, and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft, and/or need to stow an assistive device. If you have a disability and require preboarding, you should request a Preboarding Document from the Customer Service Agent at your departure gate..

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C

Ask when you check your baggage.  Depending on the airport they will either give it to you when you check your bags or at the gate.  When I don't have my cane with me and don't wear my carpal tunnel brace, I look like I'm not disabled unless you look at my neck scars.  I need more time to board to stow my portable pharmacy with my nebulizers and often times use the restroom frequently.  Since I know my home airport well, I can get to the baggage claim area quickly.  However, it's very easy to get lost in a large airport such as ATL which I almost did and missed my flight back.  Add the chronic pain issue of overdoing it by expecting to go through such a HUGE AIRPORT.  There you go.  When I departed LAS for ATL, the ticket agent gave me my preboard pass.  When I flew back home, I had to get one from an agent in the C concourse area.  There were no agents at the computer for my gate.

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C

Dear Southwest, I would love to say that your training works but sadly I have found that not to be a case. I on a recent flight from Chicago one of your flight attendant could barely hide her disgust with the fact the I chose to pre-board.  See I have a invisible disability that makes me have to use the restroom quite urgently and frequently. I found that the rear restroom get less use. I also choose on the isle. I made it a point to loudly say I didn't realize she had x-ray vision. Thankful the plane wasn't crowded so those of us that were in the back were left alone to sleep. I wonder if all Crohns and colitis flyers are treated this way. I hope it was just a fluke from a overtired flight attendant.

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Aviator A

@Love4life88 it probably stood out to the flight attendant since most of the preboarders go for the front due to mobility issues, and you were running to the back to sit in a spot that most people would find less desirable.


I know where you are coming from though...I'd say if possible, just don't let it bother you. There's no way for them to know, and you are just doing what you need to make the flight better for everyone.


I'll be honest it hadn't even occured to me to pre-board for this issue, but since I fly a lot I have the A-list anyway so I can usually get my prized aisle spot without a preboard.


What you are doing makes sense to me, just keep doing it. I really think it was just that your pattern differed from the other preboarders that caught their attention.

Home airport MDW, frequent visitor to MCO to see the mouse.

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer B

My son has Crohn's, IBS & frequent diahrreah. We pay the pre-board fee for him & he doesn't care where in the plane he gets a seat as long as it's on the aisle. He's 6 feet tall & healthy looking & the looks people give him make me glad looks can't kill a person. I feel for you. I have 2 replaced hips & 2 knees that need to be replaced, but, cannot. I wear a knee brace & need an aisle seat so that I can stretch my leg out & get out of my seat to 'walk the aisle' & I cannot climb over the inside seats. When I fly, I wear my knee brace on the outside of my pants so it can be seen, because, I am tired of the 'dirty' looks from SWA employees & passengers alike, that I get when I pre-board. Since I have started making my knee brace visible, everyone has been more than kind to me. It's sad that people are so quick to judge other people as 'fakers, just wanting to get a good seat, etc'. 

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C

I dont think there is such a thing as a "pre-board" fee...are you referring to the early bird fee?

Re: Travelling with Invisible Disabilities

Explorer C

I have used the Pre-Board option for the past several years.  I have never paid a fee to Pre-Board.  I have had 2 spine surgerys in the past 3 years so, I ask for the Pre-Board.  Depending on the chronic spine pain level the day of travel I may or may not need to Pre-Board.


I must say though the personnel I encountered on my last Southwest flight going from Portland, OR back to my home base of Albuquerque, NM was quite a pleasure.  When I checked at the gate I asked about paying the fee and upgrading to one of the A1-15 boarding slots.  The gate agent asked me the reason for needing one fo those slots.  I told him about the need to board earlier.  I was then asked for my boarding pass.  He printed out the Pre-Board passes.  There were 2 flight segments as I was using Rapid Rewards Credits and went back by way of Dallas.  I was told then to just always ask for Pre-Board, that I did not need to go into too many details.


As well on that trip, due to my fear of missing my flight out of Portland I called the night prior to my flight and asked about how long I should allow to clear security in Portland.  When I go to the airport, I learned the agent I spoke to had changed my check-in such that I could bypass the longer security line and go through the Fly-By lane as they call it at some airports and bypass most of the persons waiting for security,


I have to say for my travels, Southwest is the best in terms of customer service and all the Southwest personnel I have ever encountered seem to really care about their customers.  Not simply so you will return for future flights but simply that they care more than any of the other airlines I have ever flown.