Back in March, I had the opportunity to go on my first ever flight, from Washington, DC to San Diego. I had to make the trip through the airport and onto my flight alone because the guide I was supposed to travel with got put on a different flight unexpectedly. Luckily, I was able to get through the airport independently and without any issues, all because of my Aira glasses. Today, I will be sharing how I “Airaport”, or use Aira at the airport. It’s worth noting that I’ve only used Aira at airports in the United States, though it is available in some international airports as well.
Aira is a company that provides on-demand sighted guides (called agents) for people with vision impairments, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Agents are able to see a person’s surroundings through the use of their phone camera or through the use of smart glasses with a camera built in. Users can pay for an Aira plan and have a set amount of minutes per month- read more about my review of Aira for low vision here.
A growing number of airports are becoming Aira Access locations to better assist travelers. Aira Access locations allow blind and vision impaired users to use the Aira service free of charge- all they have to do is download the app. Users who already have an Aira plan are not charged for minutes that are used at Aira Access locations either. A full list of Aira Access locations can be found inside the Aira app- I recommend running a search for the name of your local airport to see if they participate in the service. Users can still use Aira at an airport even if it isn’t an Aira Access location, but they will be charged for the minutes.
Since I have a pair of Aira glasses, I had the option of either using my phone camera or my glasses camera to navigate the airport. Ultimately, I decided to use my Aira glasses, because I had my hands full with luggage and my blindness cane. For people that don’t have the glasses, I recommend having a way to hold onto your phone, such as a stand or wrist strap, so you don’t have to add “replacing a shattered phone screen” to your list of things to do on vacation.
Before I even get to the airport, I can use Aira to help me check my suitcase and make sure that I remembered everything. It’s also helpful for making sure that everything fits properly and I’m maximizing all of the space in my suitcase. People who have no usable eyesight can also benefit from having someone that can identify objects in their suitcase and the location of objects.
Once I get out of the car, I activate Aira so I can go over to the ticket counter and get a paper ticket for my flight if needed. Since it’s hard for me to tell which counters have people behind them, the Aira agent helps guide me through the line, and then disconnects while I am talking to the airport staff. I reactivate Aira once I’m finished at the counter and then can use it to get to the TSA security line.
Going through the TSA security line is often the most chaotic part of going to the airport, since it involves taking off shoes, taking items out of suitcases, and having to walk without a cane for a short distance. While having a TSA Pre-Check helps to eliminate a lot of this stress, Aira helps me get through security more easily as they are able to describe my surroundings. Read more about how vision impaired travelers can benefit from a TSA Pre-Check here.
The TSA security officers let me keep my Aira glasses on during the screening in my experience, though some airports will quickly scan the glasses first before I wear them through the rest of the security process. I find the glasses especially helpful for when it comes time for me to grab my items from the conveyor belt and put things back in their place.
TSA security officers don’t let people take their phone with them through security, even when using Aira. In a situation like this, I would ask the Aira agent to describe to me what the TSA security line looks like and remember their instructions on where to walk. I would put my phone down at the last minute and ask for assistance from one of the TSA officers in locating my possessions.
I find it difficult to read posted signs about gate change announcements, so I use my Aira glasses to check the posted signs as well as look up information about my flight online. This helped tremendously when I realized that I had no clue how to get to my gate, and the agent was able to help me find the shuttle to my gate and navigate the rest of the way. I usually deactivate the Aira glasses while on the shuttle because I can hear the announcements over the intercom system clearly.
Once I’m near my gate, I ask the Aira agent to help me find some food. Since the agents have a map of the airport terminal, they are able to see what restaurants are near me and how to get to them. They can also help me read the menu and pick out something interesting to eat- normally, I tell the agent the type of food that I want and they then give me options based on that. For example, when I was last at the airport, the agent helped me find a burger place near my gate and picked out an awesome black bean burger for me. Read more about how I read menus in restaurants here.
Time to board! I usually don’t keep Aira on while waiting for my flight to board, so I reactivate it again when the pre-board announcement comes on. Since the gate agents often can’t leave to help me get to the plane, I ask the Aira agent to help me navigate all of the different twists and turns on my way to the plane. Once we’re on the plane, the Aira agent helps me confirm I am in the right seat, and then helps ensure that I know where the nearest emergency exit is on the plane. Once more people start boarding, I deactivate Aira until I arrive at my destination. Until then, I can listen to music or watch a movie with audio description- read more about how to watch audio described movies on your next flight here.
Once the flight attendants allow people to use cellular devices, I turn my Aira glasses back on to help me get off the plane and figure out where I am. The agent is able to help me find a bathroom in the terminal, but they are not allowed to help me once I enter the bathroom as it is illegal to record video in a public bathroom. I can activate Aira once I am out of the bathroom though, and can ask the service to call me a ridesharing service to my hotel, or to help me navigate to the exit so I can call a ridesharing service myself.
For the average airport trip, I probably use about 25 minutes of Aira service total, and I use less if I’m in my home airport since I can navigate around very well with my cane. Aira has given me the freedom to travel independently and to go anywhere from Washingon, DC to Washington State. I can’t wait to see how I use Aira at the airport in 2019 and for all of my future travels.