My wife travels with a mobility scooter, and we live near Orlando and travel out of Miami on cruises or flights frequently. We will examine the choices available to make the journey and review the advantages of traveling via Brightline.
There really 4 practical options available for everyone. For abled bodied individuals, any of them might be acceptable, but when you are disabled and make this trip, there are factors that affect your decision.
Flying may be slightly quicker than taking Brightline, but when you factor in needing to check in very early for your flight, and then the wait time for your mobility device to show up, and then get your luggage the time difference is not significant.
When you have to deal with the screening process, even with TSA Pre-Check and have assistance to go through screening, at the airport it is an unpleasant experience. My wife travels with her Whill Ci2 and so she winds up needing a physical screening, and they have to swipe the Ci2 for residue, both of which require extra time.
Waiting areas, unless you have a club membership for the airline you are flying, the waiting areas are miserable. There are very limited places to work, plug into AC power, or recharge your device.
On a plane, even in first class the seating space is limited, and trying to access the restroom on an aircraft with a disability is a challenge for most, and impossible for some.
I don’t know any disabled person that would want to travel intercity on a bus in the US, I don’t know about overseas. In most cases, a disabled individual would not be able to remain in their wheelchair. There may not be an accessible toilet available, and getting up the steps, well that is a real barrier as well.
Driving is probably my second choice because it is something I can control. The challenge is that as you get into Miami traffic can be bad, and it creates wear and tear on your vehicle and your body.
This is my new favorite choice, it is at least as fast as driving yourself, but you avoid the stress and the aggravation of driving.
Brightline is one of the few means of travel that is really designed with the disabled traveler in mind. In many cases, accessibility is an afterthought. At Brightline it looks like they started with that as a core principle, both at the station and onboard.
The accessible bathrooms are spacious enough for mobility scooters and wheelchairs. There are no obstacles to deal with anywhere we saw, either on board or in the stations.
There are also fully ADA accessible bathrooms on board the train, which is a welcome difference from what you have on an airplane. Cheryl was able to go into one with the Whill Ci2 and close the door, turn around, access the toilet and the sink. The door has a button to open and close the sliding door.
There is a bag drop where you can check your bags to your destination. There is a small fee for that service, but it definitely has its advantages when traveling with multiple large bags for an extended trip.
There is a size limit for the bags you carry on, so with large suitcases, you will need to check them through to your destination. You can carry on your backpack and smaller suitcases, and in each car, there is storage space for them. You do not have to worry about them fitting in overhead or under your seat.
To gain entrance to the main terminal area you will need to go up an escalator, or the elevator to the upper level. Once there, you pass through touchless turnstiles that are activated by your ticket, either on your device or a printed ticket.
Screening couldn’t be any easier, your bags go on a conveyor and through a scanner, either as checked luggage or as carry on.
As a passenger, you walk or ride your mobility device through a scanner, and as long as the system doesn’t flag you, you just keep on going. Cheryl has gone through multiple times on her Whill Ci2 without any issues.
Once you are through security, then the waiting areas are very different than what you encounter at the airport. The terminals typically have a waiting area with a Mary Mary bar to provide beer, wine and cocktails. There is also an automated shop where you can purchase food and souvenirs.
The waiting areas are large and spacious with power, both 120V and USB power connections, at each seat. There are also tables where you can work and these also have an abundance of power available.
For passengers traveling on Premium fares, there is a separate Premium lounge which has snacks, soft drinks, bottled water and a variety of beer and wine available. The main terminals in Miami and in Orlando are both larger and offer more in the way of choices of adult beverages than the smaller stations.
The premium lounge also has hors d'oeuvres available. The choices vary depending on the time of day. Everything we sampled was very good.
There are also areas in the waiting room for families with smaller children where there are activities they can enjoy, and there is a waiting area for adults adjacent so parents can be near their children.
This is one area where the Brightline is vastly superior to the airline process. Since there is plenty of storage on board, there is never the urgency to be first on the plane.
You wait in the terminal until a few minutes before departure time, and there is an announcement that you can board. There are escalators and elevators to take you to the track level, your ticket shows the car number, and you can make your way to your car, and then board and find your seat.
With mobility devices, there is a plate that is down leaving only a small crack between the platform and the train. You can roll on a level surface to the car, making the process totally seamless. The doors, aisles and space on the train make the process very easy.
When the Orlando leg starts, the train will operate at speeds as high as 125 MPH. The travel time to Miami will be about 3 hours, which is faster than driving.
Currently between West Palm Beach and Miami the train may reach speeds in excess of 70 MPH.
For individuals traveling with a mobility device, the reserved space includes a place to park your device, and the ability to transfer to a conventional seat, or to remain in your wheelchair.
You have a couple of choices once onboard for standard seats. In the premium cars there are two seats on one side of the center aisle and a single seat on the other. There are seats that face forward and are similar to first class seats on an airline with much more space between the rows.
There are also some seats that face each other, with a table in between which are perfect for families traveling together and also for travelers who want a table to work on as they travel.
In the Smart Fare cars, there are two seats on each side of the aisle. With the arrangement being the same.
Based on what we know about Brightline, we are convinced that for us, when we need to go to Miami, the best choice is Brightline. We value the convenience and the comfort of the trip. The worst part of our trip now is the drive to Orlando Airport, once we reach the car park, everything else is comfortable and convenient.
All of this is very good in theory, what about in real life? The only way to answer that question would be to put it to the test. We decided to give it a try by taking the train from West Palm Beach into Miami. The next blog post covers that trip.
Let me know what you think about the concept? Is Brightline the best way for a passenger with a disability to make the journey from Orlando to Miami?
To learn more, check out this video showing the accessibility in the Orlando Terminal. https://youtu.be/pwNs2wBARAs
Here is a discussion about Brightline and their commitment to accessibility: