Flying Wheelchairs

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FLYING WHEELCHAIRSGetting on an airplane scares you now that you’re paralyzed and need to travel in a wheelchair? Makes you nervous?

Stop worrying and get out there and see the world! Once you’ve done it once, it’s easy!  This is what’s gonna happen:

1) Get to the airport. Check in at the desk. (You’re allowed 2 free bags on Southwest so I like that airline). Medical and mobility equipment doesn’t count as your luggage. I’ve taken 2 wheelchairs and a shower chair plus 2 army bags (don’t go over 50lbs.). If your shower chair has movable parts package it in a way parts don’t get lost, or take it with you to the gate and check it there.

2) Go through security- all airports have a line for people using wheelchairs to go through. You get to skip the long line…sometimes there are perks to this wheelchair thing! If you are traveling with a companion or personal care attendant they will be able to come with you. You will need to remove your coats and put in all your carry-ons through the security belt/camera.  As your companion is taking off their own shoes and waiting to go through the metal detector, you should make yourself visible to security people. They will call “male-assist” or “female-assist” depending if you are male/female. Someone will escort you through the plexi-glass door to the other side where they will proceed to pat you down. They will ask can you remove your shoes? Or can you lean side to side? Stand up? You will say NO and they will work around that. They will take these little white pads to swipe your chair and shoes for any residue or I-don’t-know-what. If it’s positive don’t panic- some heart medications and crap that gets on our chairs sets it off. In any case they will just re-pat you and check your carry-ons.

3) At the gate. Check in again and they will tag your chair with a tag and claim number. This is so they will bring your chair up to the gate when you arrive at your destination and you don’t have to get in those huge, uncomfortable airport wheelchairs. It’s important that you check in too because then staff is aware that you are a passanger with special needs and you will be allowed to board before the rest of the passengers. This is a time to request any special seat requests as well.

4) Boarding. There will be 2 assistants to get you to your seat if you require their help. If you prefer your PA or companion to do it, that’s fine too. Make sure to keep any removable parts with you on the plane (cushions, footrests, etc.).  If you use a power chair and are worried about not being able to remove the joystick, cover it with a plastic bag and wrap a bright tag with some sort of warning on it. They’ll take the chair and store it with the rest of the luggage…and, that’s where we just have to hope and trust they treat it well and not damage anything.

5) When you land everyone will get off before you and then your chair will be brought to the gate. Inspect your chair and if anything is broken or missing report it immediately. They will have to replace or repair.

THE KEY IS TO BE BOSSY AND IN CONTROL. Tell the airline personnel exactly how YOU want the chair handled. I emphasize this because I have had plenty of airline employees think they know better than I in regards to handling my wheelchair and it just results in frustration and sometimes damage of costly mobility equipment.

Other tips: I don’t drink anything a few hours before so I don’t have to pee on the plane. Some wear an underpad just in case and for peace of mind. Those who catheterize sometimes opt to wear a leg bag on that particular day.  Although you probably could get into the ridiculously small restroom on the plane, the truth is it would be soo difficult and probably really embarrassing. Anyway, there are peeing options you just need to plan for it.

Remember to pack meds and any special equipment you need.

Also, if you are traveling alone, pack light and efficient. Although, there are airport staff available to help you gather your bags at baggage claim or help you out to the car or pick-up, remember you will be needing to move with bags on your own at some point and that can be difficult.

Traveling and plane rides are a process but well worth it to see the world!!! It may not always go smoothly…but in life things don’t always go smoothly…and we suck it up, get over it and enjoy the good parts!!!!

Fasten your seat belt and FLY!!!!

1 Comment

  1. Susan Green Cooksey
    February 20, 2015

    About 4 months after my SCI, I flew on Alaska Air. The Flight Attendant was very helpful getting me on to the plane and into my seat after taking my wheelchair. Before leaving me, she said, “Oh, and if there is an emergency, wait for everyone else to leave the plane before you try to get off. And don’t worry. We’ll come back for you”. It was then, that I realized that I was really screwed.

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