Traveling by plane is getting more and more stressful. From security checkpoints pat-downs and shoe removals to TSA officials who view mother’s breast milk as potentially toxic substance, there are a gazillion mundane things that can really get things off to a bad start. Long lines, lost luggage, inattentive attendants, flight delays, long layovers, and more can have you spending more time just getting to and from your destination than the actual vacation. If you’re traveling on business it can wear you down, inhibit your performance, cost money, and even affect your health. This applies to all of us, but what about the added difficulty for those of us in chairs?
I could write six months’ worth of blogs on the ins and outs of dealing with airlines from a chair, but for now I will offer a series of suggestions for dealing with the airlines that will help make the fast-approaching vacation season a bit easier to navigate if you plan on getting out of town. So here we go…
- Never Book Your Tickets Online- Do your research and book by phone. Find out which airlines have the best customer service reputation for assisting people in chairs, and supply the most direct flights. Speak directly to an agent and ask lots of question. Airlines process thousands of calls a day, be specific and give them all the info you can. Remember to ask that they waive the phone booking fee because you called with specific needs.
- Try to Book Direct- Nobody in chairs likes awkward transfers and if you have any layovers or plane changes you increase you travel complications and even chance for injury. If you cannot transfer unassisted do not travel alone. Airline employees are not wheelchair-savvy, and are often rushed and trying to get the plane filled, packed, and on its way on time.
- Do Their Thinking for Them- Never assume airline or security staff know anything. From the moment you book your tickets, to claim your baggage, make it clear what your needs are. If you need an aisle seat with an adjacent seat, tell them and tell them why. Always clarify that you need pre-boarding time before the other passengers. If you use a manual chair tell the attendant at the door of the aircraft to store it in the forward compartment and do not stack anything on it.
- Take Your Time- Arrive at the airport as early as you need to in order to check your bags and get through security so that you can be at the gate 90 minutes before boarding. If you use a catheter try to void before boarding. Rushing creates a recipe for disaster.
- Know Your Gear- Travel as streamlined as possible. Keep an emergency kit of all your medical essentials in your carry-on. Keep wheelchair add-ons like cushions and backpacks with you in the cabin. Pack smart.
- Don’t Be a Jerk- You catch more flies with honey. Don’t hold people responsible for what they don’t know. Be kind, grateful, and take time to teach and it is amazing what people will do. Service industry staff are used to being yelled at and walked on. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them. Help them help you and you’ll pave the way for another person in a chair to have a better, safer trip next time.