The thought of flying with Jason’s disability gave us both anxiety at the beginning. We had read horror stories in the news of how people in wheel chairs had been mistreated, or wheel chairs being lost or broken. Losing or breaking Jason’s wheel chair would be detrimental. It was also the fear of the unknown. But we knew that we would have to travel sometime since we are both away from our families. However, with the help of the internet and a dear friend of mine whose husband is in a wheelchair, we have been able to have relatively smooth flights. Here are some tips that we have discovered that we hope can help others.
These are things that I’ve discovered traveling with a person who can independently transfer, has a mechanical wheel chair, and has no legs. I can’t speak for traveling with a motorized wheel chair or a person who can’t transfer independently, but I will link below websites that may have answers to those questions.
-Call the airline at least 24 hours in advance to let them know you’ll be traveling with a person in a wheel chair. They’ll ask what kind of assistance you will need, such as assistance to and from the gate, or an aisle chair. This lets the airline prepare as necessary.
-When you call it’s a good idea to let them know how you want to check the wheel chair. We have always checked the wheel chair at the gate, meaning that when Jason’s transferred to the aisle chair (I’ll talk about that in a minute) the chair gets put with the other baggage below the plane. This is the only way we have checked his chair and that’s the only way I’ll allow it because it minimizes the chance of it getting lost.
-Going through security isn’t too bad. There is a special aisle for people in wheel chairs off to the side. The person traveling still has to abide by security rules, such as the amount of liquids allowed, etc. They use the wand over Jason and do a pat down. While they do that, they will wipe down Jason’s chair with gloves to check for explosive residue. Once that gets the all clear (only takes a minute) he is good to go. It’s pretty simple and painless. Sometimes I get to go with him and sometime I have to go through the regular security line.
-When you are at the gate, check in at the desk and let them know you’ll need priority boarding as well as tags for checking the wheel chair.
-I haven’t read anything to the contrary, but medical equipment doesn’t count toward your carry on limit. This means cushions and wheel chair parts, as well as any other medical equipment you require. A great tip from my good friend was to carry an extra bag and use it to hold all the removable wheel chair parts. When you check the wheel chair, it is recommended to remove all the parts that could come off. For Jason’s chair this means the back rest, arm rests, tippy bars, cup holder, and cushion (his chair is a Transformer I swear) I can fit all the parts except the seat cushion in the bag I bring.
-In order to get down the very narrow aisle, you will have to transfer to an aisle chair. It’s basically “a seat on a dolly” according to Jason. It is small and has chest and lap straps to keep the person in. An airline employee will take the person down the aisle and to their seat.
-The seats on the airplane aren’t very comfortable and we always bring a cushion for Jason to sit on. Also be prepared to be the first on the plane, as well as the last off. We haven’t had to do layovers yet, but keep that in mind when flying that you may need more time in your layover to account for this.
-When you land, the wheel chair should be right where you get off the plane with other items like strollers and car seats.
Here is a special tip for wounded vets. There is a great charity called Veterans Airlift Command. Pilots who fly private plans donate their time and plane to fly wounded vets around the country. It doesn’t cost anything and they do this on their own dime. The picture at the top of the post is of us traveling via VAC. You have to be able to get into the small planes and be flexible in your travel plans. We did this last Christmas and didn’t know our flight details until the day before and the day of. Regardless, it was a cool experience and you don’t have to deal with airport security and formalities. Here is their website http://www.veteransairlift.org/
These are some other links for traveling with a disability:
This is a cool video that this lady did of her experience http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrS7NROyRd0
I hope that this post helped to lesson anxieties. Once we did one flight, the rest have been smooth. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the airline or airport, and don’t let being in a wheel chair keep you from traveling! This summer we will be doing our first international trip and I’ll be posting about that experience when it happens.