As we gear up to planning our end-of-the-year holidays, we need to consider how we fly with our wheelchairs. Here are some pointers.
Always contact the airline after confirmation of your flight booking to inform them that you are travelling with a wheelchair and require assistance. There may be extra forms to fill in or information to give telephonically, so have the details handy: the weight, its type and whether it folds.
Confirm that the airline has a record of your requests at least 48 hours before you travel and get to the airport early.
Before travelling make sure that your wheelchair is in full working order – get a maintenance check-up. Ensure that you have basic tools and parts for the chair’s assembly and repair in case something goes wrong.
Power-wheelchair battery chargers with a typical 240 v charger will not work on mains in a country using 110 v. Your charger may be dual voltage and therefore be able to switch over, but if not, you may need a step-down transformer.
Take dry cell batteries (the sealed type), as most airlines will not carry a wet cell battery without a special lead-lined battery box.
Make sure that your name and address are on all items of equipment and that your chair has a gate delivery tag. Make sure you get one at the check-in counter and place it onto your chair.
Stay in your chair until you reach the door of the plane (either on the sky bridge or in the PAU). Often ground staff want you to use their transporter chair to the baggage claim area, but you must insist that your chair be brought to the plane door. It is your human right!
Remove seat cushions and any parts that could easily become separated from the chair. Take these items into the cabin with you. Attach instructions detailing how and where to disconnect the batteries as well as instructions for any other disassembly or preparations that may be necessary for transport. Be aware that some cargo openings are only 63 cm high, therefore disassembly may be required. Having instructions on your equipment is very important, because the crew who you deal with are not necessarily the crew who will load it and will definitely not be the crew who unload it!
Aisle chairs are narrow straight-backed chairs with small wheels underneath. It may take a couple of people to assist you to transfer to the chair safely. Always tell the staff how you prefer to be handled, and if you have a carer travelling with you, let them assist, as they know you best.
Before landing, remind the cabin crew that you will need your equipment brought to the door of the plane, so that they can radio ahead to make the arrangements.
Forward planning reduces stress and makes for happy travels!
Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: firstname.lastname@example.org