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Posts Tagged ‘airplanes’

Happy Wednesday!

We are in the final countdown of days to Christmas, and perhaps some of you are planning to travel around the holidays. Air travel IS possible for people who use wheelchairs, and I would encourage you to not shy away from flying places that you might want to go to. Whether to visit family or friends, take a vacation or even a business trip, some advance planning and preparation are key to a succesful and enjoyable experience.

First, make sure you specify your needs when making your initial plans with the airline.

Second, allow PLENTY of time for all parts of the process: arrive early and allow extra time for going through security and getting to the gate. If you need assistance curbside, let the airline personnel know what you need. Once you’re at the gate, make sure the gate agents know you need an aisle chair or assistance. You’ll probably be the first passenger to board, so be ready!

Third, make sure you take all removable parts of your wheelchair onto the plane with you, and your seating cushion if you will use that on the plane. Make sure your chair is tagged and marked properly for any special care that needs to be taken. This is especially important for power chairs.

Fourth, always allow for delays! Make sure you have extra supplies for cathing and know how you will handle a situation if it arises. Delays are inevitable these days (or so it seems!), so being prepared is essential.

Finally, when you arrive at your destination, check your chair throughly to make sure it is not damaged, all parts are accounted for and it is safe to use. Don’t transfer into it until you are sure it is safe! If it is damaged, take pictures and document what has happened, and file a claim.

Air travel can be troublesome for everyone to some extent, and with added challenges of accessibility, accomodations, wheelchairs and extra supplies needed, you do need to plan accordingly if you have a disability of any sort that requires special attention. There was a story in the news recently about a 12 year old girl who uses a wheelchair being treated unfairly by the TSA. It happens, and it’s awful. My son was, I believe, unfairly targeted when flying out of Denver airport several years ago, and the commotion they caused and the way he was treated probably violated his rights as a person and a passenger. It’s a difficult situation, though, and while you may not deserve the treatment the TSA seems intent on imposing on you, it’s a very helpless feeling to be at their mercy. Try to document anything that seems ufair, and get names and badge numbers for follow-up later on.

I hope you enjoy traveling and go many wonderful places! Using a wheelchair may present additional challenges, but I hope they don’t prevent you from going anywhere you want to go!

A recent edition of Life in Action (Sept-Oct 2012) has some wonderful information on various travel activities and tips. Check it out!   http://www.spinalcord.org/getting-there/

Happy and safe travels! Cynthia

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I thought about writing today’s post about flying because my son, Darren, will be flying to Las Vegas tomorrow afternoon for a quad rugby tournament. As with many of my posts, they come from my own personal experience, and are not neccessarily true or accurate for everyone else, but they are what I know, and can hopefully help others.

As many of you already know, Darren is very independent. He’s a C5 quad that drives, has his MBA and works full time. He is living in an apartment with a roommate, and is active on the Board and as a player for the NY Warriors quad rugby team.

Darren has flown many times since his injury. Some flights were with me or other family members, with friends, and by himself as well. He uses a manual wheelchair with eMotion wheels, which he has to be very careful with when flying. His roommate will be dropping him off and picking him up from the airport, so I won’t even be there to give him last minute reminders. I’m sure Darren is grateful for that actually! While I feel the need to remind him of a variety of things, Darren doesn’t obviously need my help (imagine that!). Oh, the anxiety “us Moms” have when “letting go” of our children……..

One thing I know is to allow plenty of time for everything travel related. It takes more time to drop off the passenger, more time to check in, more time to go through security, etc. Preparation is key! Then, usually the airline wants you to board FIRST, so you want to make sure you arrive at the gate with plenty of time. In Darren’s case, he stays in his wheelchair until he reaches the door of the plane. He is then transferred into an “aisle chair” that is very narrow and fits in the aisle of the plane. It is up to Darren to instruct the helpers as to how to lift him, how to transfer, etc. It is very important that the passenger feel comfortable in explaining how things should be done for him/herself. If the passenger is unable to explain the details, he/she should have someone along with them to explain. His wheelchair (previously tagged) will be gate checked.

During a long flight or delays of any sort, you should be prepared to catheterize should the need arise. Darren always has his supplies with him, and with the help of a seat mate or stewardess, he can have a blanket for privacy should he need to take care of urinating on the plane. It can hopefully be avoided, but sometimes must be done.

Upon arrival at the destination, a person using an aisle chair and needing their wheelchair from the cargo area, is generally the last one off the plane. It is important to check the wheelchair to make sure it all looks good, before transferring back into it. I know Darren takes off some of the parts that might come off or be harmed in transit (tip bars, seat cushion), so they need to be put back on.

I hope I don’t jinx this trip, but up until now, Darren has not had any problems with his chair. I have heard horror stories about both passengers and equipment being abused and not treated properly, but fortunately, Darren’s equipment has always been OK.

We did have a situation in the Denver airport when we were flying home to NJ from a great week of skiing at Winter Park (their adaptive program was awesome!) where Darren was definitely and clearly mis-treated. The agent was nasty and seemed to have his eye on Darren from the minute we arrived at security. At that time, we did not know the regulation/law said that a person in a wheelchair does NOT have to be removed from his/her chair for an “inspection,” but we do now. We had never had this happen before (or since, thank goodness), but that experience was horrible. The agent insisted on bringing Darren into a private room, would not let me or anyone in the family accompany him, and they transferred him out of his wheelchair and into another chair so they could inspect him and the chair. It was an awful, humiliating experience. We know now that a person is not required to do this, and I hope Darren carries that regulation with him, that we found online. Hopefully he’ll never have to use it.

All in all, his travel experiences have been pleasant, and he certainly does not avoid flying if he wants to go somewhere. I’d love to hear your questions, experiences and stories. Please share!

Cynthia

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