By Dakota Parks for Visit Florida
Known as the “Gateway to the Gulf Coast,” Pensacola International Airport (PNS) is a small hub airport, conveniently located near Pensacola’s vibrant downtown historic district and world-famous beaches, serving more than 2 million passengers a year.
With more than 20 destinations offered by eight airlines including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest, Spirit, Silver Airways, Frontier and Boutique Air, Pensacola Airport is dedicated to helping all of their passengers “fly easy,” including travelers with disabilities who make up around 10 percent of the world’s population.
“I think where we excel the most in terms of accessibility is our team,” Assistant Airport Director Erica Grancagnolo said. “Our customer service specialists are located curbside at the main entrance and throughout the airport to make sure everyone is receiving the accommodations they need—whether it’s someone traveling with a disability, parents with small children or guests wrestling more luggage than they can handle. We want to make sure traveling is a smooth experience for everyone that comes through our doors.”
Pensacola Airport regularly consults with ADA consultants during renovation and expansion projects. In 2011, the airport underwent its last terminal expansion, and it is currently in the development phase of its next modernization project to expand the security screening checkpoint, add five new gates to the 12 gates the airport currently has, add additional parking facilities and additional improvements to increase the travel experience for residents and visitors.
“Pensacola Airport is very convenient, and the airport staff are always so friendly and helpful. I’ve actually gotten to know some of the people who assist me getting onto the plane, because they remember me from all my trips,” Eamon O’Regan explained.
Originally from Ireland, O’Regan has lived in Pensacola for the past 17 years, and he is a lifelong travel enthusiast, foodie, and photographer. After sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2019, O’Regan had to relearn how to travel as a wheelchair user, becoming a frequent flier at Pensacola Airport. He has since solo-traveled across America, Argentina, Australia and Europe.
“Traveling takes a little more planning these days,” he explained. “I always make sure my special assistance is noted on my itinerary and to call the airline in advance. After the team helps transfer me to an aisle chair to board the plane, I say a little prayer that my wheelchair doesn’t get broken in cargo. The most stressful part about flying for me though is having to use the restroom on the plane, so I always appreciate a spacious airport bathroom.”
The first step in planning a trip through Pensacola International Airport will start with contacting the airline directly during booking to request accommodations. Guests should call or email the airline directly or fill out the designated section during booking to request assistance such as in-flight assistance, wheelchair assistance or an escort from curbside check-in to the gates (and vice-versa). If guests need additional help or information at Pensacola Airport, they can also contact the reception desk directly at 850-436-5000.
Bruno Matthew Arnold, a Pensacola local and disability rights advocate and Founder of Trident Disabilities, frequently flies out of Pensacola Airport with his service dog, Mastro. As a visually impaired traveler, Matthew often finds navigation and security to be the most stressful part of traveling.
“Navigating Pensacola Airport is a lot easier than some of the larger airports, where I definitely need an escort to and from the gate,” Arnold said. “Security is probably the most stressful because there are so many people telling you what to do, and your service dog has to go through the metal detector before you. At Pensacola Airport, they are always friendly and take me to a separate TSA lane where I can take my time without slowing everyone else down at security.”
Arnold stressed the importance of travelers with disabilities planning ahead, making sure their paperwork is filled out in advance and not being afraid to ask for help when they need it.
“Traveling with my service dog takes a little more preparation, but he also makes me feel safer when I’m traveling alone.” Arnold said. “I’ve gotten lost once trying to find my gate by myself and a kind stranger stopped to help me. It’s important to know when to ask for help.”
Travelers with disabilities can also request a private screening through the TSA checkpoint by contacting TSA Cares at least 72 hours in advance if possible.
For travelers flying with service animals, many airlines now require guests to complete a DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form and a Service Animal Relief Attestation Form at least 48 hours prior to departure.
Navigating the Airport
Pensacola Airport has an easy to navigate design with one main terminal located on the second level:
The first level houses the ticketing area on the right of the main entrance and the baggage claim area with baggage claim carousels and baggage claim office on the left. There is a hotel information counter at the center. Other services include vending machines, nursing rooms, ATMs, paging phone, courtesy phone, Men, Women, and Family restrooms, elevators/escalators, and visual paging display. Towards the exit there are car rental options.
The second level houses the TSA security check leading to the terminal gate area. There are 12 terminal gates inside. There is an airport administration office towards the right and the USO lounge on the left. Services on this level include vending machines, ATMs, charging stations, water fountain, paging phone, courtesy phone, Men, Women, and Family restrooms, elevators/escalators, and visual paging display. Gift shopping and dining options are also available between the gates.
For more information, please refer to the PNS Airport Map here.
Inside the Airport
Pensacola International Airport has many accessible amenities to make traveling through the airport a smooth experience for all of its guests, starting with designated disabled parking areas in each lot and a 24/7 handicapped accessible shuttle service to all of the airport parking lots.
Pensacola International Airport also offers free parking to disabled veterans with a disabled veteran license plate. Additionally, guests who also have their vehicle retrofitted to meet the needs of their disability, such as hand controls or a wheelchair lift, can park for free in any Pensacola Airport lot. These guests should call Republic Parking at 850-435-8767 to arrange for validation or have the toll booth operator validate their parking ticket on their way out.
RESTROOMS: Located conveniently on the first floor by the escalators and elevators, on the second floor before the TSA screening and in-between the terminal gates, PNS has several spacious restrooms with handicap-accessible stalls and multiple family restrooms for those who need assistance from caregivers or extra room to maneuver.
SERVICE ANIMALS: Being a small airport with a short distance between the entrance and the gates, PNS has a designated service animal relief area located just outside the main entrance. As you exit the airport and walk toward the parking garage, you will find this grassy area on the right-hand side equipped with waste bags and a trash can.
USO LOUNGE: For veterans, military
members and their families looking for a quiet place to relax before their flight, Pensacola Airport’s USO Center is located on the second level near the escalators and is open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm daily. The center offers coffee and tea, snacks, a children’s play area, TV/cable and lounge chairs and an Xbox for entertainment.
VISION OR HEARING IMPAIRMENT: To help travelers navigate the airport easily, PNS utilizes both audio and visual paging at the gates. Visual paging locations are marked on the PNS map on the first floor near baggage claim and between the terminal gates. Vision-impaired travelers who need special assistance should let their airline know to have a sighted guide at the gate or curbside to help them get where they need to go.
Most of the 8 rental car companies that operate at PNS offer vehicles equipped with hand controls and adaptive driving devices with advance notice. zTrip Pensacola taxi service offers wheelchair accessible taxis from the airport, and guests looking to rent a wheelchair accessible van for their trip can contact Superior Van & Mobility at (877)-958-5353 or browse Wheelchair Getaways.
Additionally, all city buses operated by Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) are wheelchair accessible and frequently depart from the main entrance at Pensacola International Airport during the hours of 9:00am to 5:00pm.
“We are constantly looking for ways to improve the experience at Pensacola Airport and try to go above and beyond ADA compliance,” Airport Administrator Michael Laven said. “We take every suggestion for improvement seriously, and we know that accessibility makes it easier for all travelers to get to their destinations safely.”