(Image courtesy of http://topbillinmusic.com/)
Today's post is a contribution from Jason Ballerini, who has previously posted his story on DisCo. Jason is a keen traveller and recently took a trip to Bali. Here are some of his general and flying tips for travel from his personal experience as a wheelchair user.
Tips for Planning a Fabulous (Accessible) Holiday
- Plan ahead and book early. Accessible resources are limited, so if you require a wheelchair accessible cabin or hotel room, make reservations early to avoid
disappointment - several months in advance if possible.
- When making any type of reservation, whether it be for a hotel, medical
equipment, a van, or an attraction, ask VERY SPECIFIC questions. Don't let someone get away with answering you with a quick "yes, we are wheelchair accessible,"
because a lot of times they really aren't. Let them know exactly what requirements you are looking for and make sure that the reservations agent understands what you mean.
- Always check and double check reservations. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you have a reservation for something when you don’t.
Before You Go:
- When booking a flight, be very specific about your situation and the requirements you need i.e. an aisle seat, bulkhead seats, seats beside each other, what type of wheelchair you use (manual or electric, wet cell or dry cell batteries), and whether you will need assistance boarding the plane.
- If you have a choice between a direct, non-stop flight and a slightly cheaper flight that has connections, take the non-stop flight. You may save a little money by choosing the connecting flights, but the money you save often isn't worth the hassle of having to change planes and the potential problems that go along with it. Changing planes means that the baggage handlers have to handle your wheelchair one more time, and unlike the first leg of your trip where you can show the people who take your chair how they should handle it, you can't give any instructions to the next handlers. There is also more possibility of luggage being lost temporarily if you have to change planes. Connecting flights can also cause issues if for instance, your first flight is a couple hours late departing, you may miss your connecting flight.
- Have your wheelchair or scooter routinely serviced before you go so that you are sure everything is in working order for the trip. Bring some extra wheelchair or scooter parts (such as tyre tubes) along on your trip in case you run into trouble during your travels. It is also a good idea to bring some basic tools (screwdriver, allen keys, duct tape, etc.) along in your checked
baggage in case you need to do a little repair work on your chair at your destination.
- If there are sensitive or delicate areas on your wheelchair that you will not be able to remove and take with you into the cabin of the plane, put labels on these areas so that the baggage handlers know not to touch or remove them. For instance, label the brakes with a big piece of tape, including up and down arrows indicating which way the brakes go to engage or disengage the chair to assist the handlers.
- Check and double check your reservations i.e. seats beside each other, aisle seat, aisle chair etc.
At The Airport:
- When you are checking in for your boarding passes and they are tagging your luggage and wheelchair(s), ask them to "gate-check" the wheelchair you are sitting in. Then they will put a tag on your wheelchair that tells the baggage handlers at your destination to immediately bring your wheelchair to the gate (the door of the plane) rather than bringing it to the baggage claim. This way you can immediately transfer back into your wheelchair outside the door of the plane at your destination rather than having to sit in an airport wheelchair first, and be pushed to the baggage claim by an airport official to meet up with your chair. Note that it is not guaranteed that they will be able to bring your wheelchair back to the gate at your destination as it depends on whether or not there is an elevator nearby to bring the wheelchair up from the cargo hold. If not, they automatically just bring it to the baggage claim.
- When the check-in agents are tagging your luggage, a lot of agents like to tag the checked luggage of a person with a disability with priority stickers so that they are the first bags off of the airplane and therefore the first bags on the baggage carousel. However, people who need wheelchair assistance are always the last ones off of the airplane, so, if you see the checks-in agents putting priority stickers on your checked baggage, you might just want to tell them that it's not necessary (unless of course you would like it).
- Immediately after you transfer out of your wheelchair (and before they take it away), remove any loose or vulnerable parts from your wheelchair and take them onto the plane with you. Baggage handlers are notorious for manhandling wheelchairs. They love to take apart anything they can, so it is important to remove loose parts of your chair and just store them with you on the plane. This includes things like a joystick and footrests. You don't have to put them in your carry-on luggage - just place them in the overhead compartment above your seat.
- Secure any loose or moveable parts on your wheelchair that you can not take on the plane with you before they take your chair away to the cargo hold. For instance, if you are checking an electric wheelchair that has a swing-away joystick (or some other moveable part), tape it together so that it is secure and unable to swing out or move.
- For those using electric wheelchairs, take the batteries out of your wheelchair personally at the airport. If your batteries do not come out of your chair, make sure you disconnect them and show the airport handler who will be taking your chair away that they are disconnected.
- Using the bathroom. No matter what the airlines tell you, bathrooms on board airplanes are not very accessible - especially for someone who might require assistance from a caregiver. They are incredibly small and can really only fit one person. You may find it helpful to firstly plan what you eat and drink that day so that you have less need or do not have to use the bathroom during the flight. If you think it is inevitable that you will need to use the bathroom at some point, try at the very least to use the bathroom inside the airport just before you board the plane so that you have less need to use the one on the plane during the flight. The bathroom in the airport will be bigger and far easier to use than the one on the plane. If you do have to use the bathroom on the plane during the flight, it should not be a problem for most airlines. The general practice is that the flight attendant will bring the onboard wheelchair to your seat and help you wheel to the bathroom, although if you require help inside the bathroom and transferring into the chair, you must provide your own caregiver to assist you for that. If you think you may have to use the bathroom on the plane during the flight, make sure to follow up with the airline at the time of reservation and again a few days prior to the flight to clarify their policy and ensure that they will have an onboard wheelchair on your flight.