Florida Guide > Travelling
A wheelchair user's guide to flying to Florida
I am often asked this question – How do you manage on an airplane when you are in a wheelchair? So I thought I would write down some of my experiences in the hope that it will be of use to those who have never ventured up into the skies yet and to see that it is quite do-able although it may just take a bit more thought.
First of all I have flown over 30 times to Florida, Vegas, Cuba and places nearer afield and I just make up my mind to go with the flow. Really! The more chilled you can be I find the better the experience will turn out to be.
For most of us-price will determine which company we will travel with and I am no exception. There is however one small stipulation-if I am going to be carted around like a sack of potatoes then I want to do it once at this end and once at the other end-so for that reason I choose to fly direct. This rules out most of the American companies such as American Airlines, Delta, South West and so forth. When I board in the UK it’s with the knowledge that when I alight I will be in Florida. Also flying direct means it shortens the travelling day-something you might want to consider if you drive at the other end, which I do.
This means that the range of airline companies is mainly restricted to charter flights and Virgin Atlantic. I have used most of them –some are better than others-at the end of the day they have all got me safely to my destination-a big plus!
When I ring to enquire about seat prices- I tend not to tell them about my disability until I actually book. It doesn’t really make that much difference. I book the cheapest seats and just let them put me wherever.
I arrive at the airport on the day of travel the stipulated 3 hours before and just wait my turn in the queue to be allocated my seat. I have sat in just about every different area of the plane-from the front to the very back-aisle seats, window seats-whatever.
When you present yourself at check in-they will usually put a sticker on the chair. You can stay in your own chair right up to the door of the aircraft.
Nowadays aisles are so narrow that a normal sized chair can not go up the aisle and if like me you cannot walk at all –you will be required to sit on an aisle chair.
These come in all sorts of shapes –and one size-narrow! Some look quite comfortable with padded seats and others look like instruments of torture with some thin plastic covering some cruel metal rods. If hopefully your wheelchair seat is no bigger than a 16inch0then do sit on your cushion-you don’t want to risk damage at this early stage.
There should be 2 lifters who know what they are doing if you cannot walk at all. They should lift you-one at your top end –under your arms but with their hands grasping your wrists-the other person should hold you under your knees-so you stay in a seated position. Don’t allow them to just lift you under your arms-it will hurt!
While I am in a mid air-someone will grasp the cushion and put it down on the aisle chair for me to be placed upon. I find that I can just clear the seats as they take me up the aisle. Don’t be afraid to make them go slowly-you don’t want to end up bruised.
That’s the worst bit over. They should then lift you as before and put you down in your allocated seat. Your chair should now have gone into the hold.
Presume that you cannot get to the toilet and make whatever arrangements you would normally make for 9 hours without visiting a toilet. If there is an accessible loo –it will be tiny-and you will have to get back onto an aisle chair-presuming there is one on board-and the crew are not allowed to lift you.
Then just sit back and enjoy the flight, food etc.
Remember-it’s a means to an end-it’s not the holiday itself.
When you finally reach your destination-you will be last off. So be patient-often you are taken ahead of the other passengers when going through immigration-so you could end up ahead of the game anyway.
In order to disembark-you will have to do the aisle chair routine again. When you get outside the aircraft-your own chair may be there-often though you will be put in a horrible airport chair-your own will appear with the baggage. Try not to make a fuss-they do wheel you along-and they have to lift you back into your own at some point.
After that you have arrived and survived and you can put your experience behind you for 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks.
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Page added on: 9 May 2007
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