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Disabled Flying Guide - Never Allow Your Disability To Get In The Way

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If your movements are restricted or you’re physically handicapped, consult a disabled flying guide to assuage your worries when you need to take an airplane.

A disabled person will normally have qualms when it comes to traveling, particularly if its air travel.

However, there are several ways to make disabled airline passengers feel safe and comfortable while up in the air.

7 Quick Tips for Traveling With A Disability

Advanced Preparations And Consultations

COPYRIGHT_SPINE: Published on https://spinal-injury.net/disabled-flying-guide/ by Dr. Bill Butcher on 2022-10-26T07:58:00.152Z

Before your trip, consult your doctor:

  • about your need for immunizations
  • to ensure that you have all the prescriptions you will need for the duration of your trip (and some spare for emergencies)
  • about all the medical equipment you might need, and any spare parts you might need in an emergency
  • recommendations for any non-prescription medications you might need such as pain killers, sun lotion, laxatives, spare glasses, etc.

It is also important to ask for information about how to get medical assistance when you are away.

Information may include contact addresses for nearby hospitals etc., emergency telephone numbers, and quality of health care in the country you are visiting.

You also need to consult your travel agent about:

  • what special assistance you can expect from the hotel, tour group, transportation company etc. you intend to use while you are way
  • what sort of accommodations will be needed throughout your trip, be it, car rental or organizing seating on planes, coaches, cruises
  • whether any special dietary needs will be sufficiently met at hotels/restaurants at your chosen destination
  • whether the hotel you intend to stay at has toilets suited to disabled travelers

In short, advanced preparation can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

It is far easier to deal with any problems from home, than in a foreign country where you may have to deal with language barriers.

A Caucasian male doctor consults with a Caucasian female adult patient, who is sitting up in a hospital bed
A Caucasian male doctor consults with a Caucasian female adult patient, who is sitting up in a hospital bed

When Renting A Car

If you are renting a car, it is strongly recommended that you do these three things:

  • Call ahead and check that a hands control car will be available if you need that.
  • If you are hiring a car and someone else is driving ensure you can transport your chair too.
  • Try and make sure you reserve the type of car you need as soon as you know your date of arrival to prevent disappointment.

As a general rule, try and book as much as possible before you leave, so that you can make sure that they accommodate your various needs, or so that they can make the relevant preparations to accommodate your requirements.

An adult male in a wheelchair holding the open door of his rented car
An adult male in a wheelchair holding the open door of his rented car

Flying With A Wheelchair

Wheelchair users should make sure that their chair is in full working order and have a maintenance check in advance of the trip. Likewise, ensure that you have basic tools and parts for the assembly and repair of your wheelchair, in the event that something goes wrong.

If you use a powered wheelchair in addition to taking the charger with you check that it will work in the country you are taking it to.

A typical British 240v battery charger will not work on 110v mains as in the USA.

Your charger may be dual voltage and able to switch to 110v if not you will need a step-up transformer to convert 110v into 240v so you can charge your chair while away.

It works the same way for visitors from 110v countries to those with 240v mains, except you'll need a step-down transformer.

Do not assume that you will readily be able to access wheelchair parts in other countries to fit your own type of chair either, better to take a spare and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Friendly reminders:

1. Make your reservation as far in advance as possible.

2. Tell the reservations person that you will be traveling with a wheelchair or scooter.

3. Inform them if you need assistance in boarding (an aisle chair to get to your seat).

4. If it is a long flight and you are able to use a standard plane toilet but are unable to walk to the toilet ask that they make an aisle chair available to you during the flight.

Some airplanes have a privacy curtain that includes the aisle that would allow a companion to assist you. But keep in mind that airplane toilets are very small.

It is well worth considering catheterization and/or a Conveen Security+ bedside drainage bag into a leg bag for these longer journeys.

5. On newer and refurbished wide-body jets (the ones with two aisles) there is one accessible toilet.

It is large enough to fit the aisle chair inside so making it possible to transfer to the toilet. These planes generally carry an aisle chair, but it is a good idea to confirm that one will be on board.

6. Always confirm that they have a record of your requests 48 hours prior to departure.

7. Some of the newer planes have lift up arms on some of the aisles.

You can request to be seated there if they are available. It makes transferring easier.

Some passengers prefer to request bulkhead seats that have more legroom, but the air rests on these seats do not lift up.

Note: An aisle chair is a narrow straight back chair with wheels underneath. It is designed to fit down the aisle of an airplane and is used to assist passengers that cannot walk.

These chairs are very narrow as can be seen in the picture. It may take several people to help you transfer to the chair safely.

A female adult wheelchair user in ponytail pushes her wheelchair on a concrete path
A female adult wheelchair user in ponytail pushes her wheelchair on a concrete path

At The Airport

It is important that you arrive early.

When you get to the airport:

1. Always check your chair or scooter at the boarding gate and request it be brought back to you at the gate when you arrive.

Usually, the arrival is where there is the biggest chance of things going wrong.

Often the ground crew insists on taking heavy wheelchairs to baggage reclaim which will mean you need to get to baggage reclaim by other means.

It is at this time you MUST insist your chair is brought to the plane doors for you if you are at all unsure about using an ill-fitting airport chair.

2. It is suggested that you use gel or foam-filled batteries in your scooter or power chair. They are also known as dry cells.

It is possible that airlines will refuse or are extremely reluctant to take acid-filled batteries nowadays.

3. If you use a fold-up manual wheelchair, you can request that it be stowed in the onboard coat closet.

Note: There is only room for one wheelchair and the service is available on a first come first served basis, so you should arrive early to make your request. Plus, not all planes have a coat closet.

4. Make sure your name and address are on your equipment and that it has a gate delivery tag if it is being stowed below.

5. If you have to change planes, request that your own equipment be returned for the layover.

This not only assures your independence while in the terminal, but it also reduces the risk of it getting lost or damaged.

Since wheelchair users are last off the plane, make sure you allow enough time to make your connection. At least an hour and a half at big airports.

6. Damage Control - Remove seat cushions and any other parts that could easily become separated from the chair. Take these items into the cabin with you.

Attach instructions on scooters or power chairs detailing how and where to disconnect the batteries; also, instructions for any other disassembly or prep that might be necessary for transport.

If you have a large power chair, be aware that on some planes the cargo opening is only 26" high. Therefore, some disassembly may be required.

You can ask what type of equipment will be used when you make your reservations.

Having instructions on your equipment are very important because even if you are available to give the employees instructions, the crew at the other end didn't see how it came apart.

7. If you need assistance transferring to the plane seat, take responsibility for yourself and tell the staff how to help you or pick you up, etc.

Yes, they should be trained, but you are always safer not assuming anything.

8. Before landing, remind the flight attendant that you will need your equipment brought to the gate so they can radio ahead to make the arrangements.

This can help speed things up.

9. If you have any problems or damage ask to speak to the Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO).

Each air carrier is required to have a CRO available by phone or in person at all times. This person is specially trained in dealing with problems that travelers with disabilities may encounter.

10. If you are traveling with a scooter or power chair make sure you arrange for transportation that will be able to accommodate your equipment upon arrival.

If you only need a scooter or wheelchair for a certain distance, you may prefer to rent one at your destination for a day or the entire trip.

Also, many theme parks and other attractions that require a lot of walking have scooters or wheelchairs available for rent or loan.

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About The Authors

Dr. Bill Butcher

Dr. Bill Butcher - With more than two decades of experience, Dr. Bill Butcher aims to provide a repository for educational materials, sources of information, details of forthcoming events, and original articles related to the medical field and about health subjects that matter to you. His goal is to help make your life better, to help you find your way when faced with healthcare decisions, and to help you feel better about your health and that of your family. Bill received his medical degree at Boston University School of Medicine and spent his entire career helping people find the health and medical information, support, and services they need. His mission is to help millions of people feel fantastic by restoring them to optimal health.

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