Having assisted my parents with their airport travel, I frequently came across a few issues from ordering a wheelchair in the airport, to going through security, which taught me to be as prepared as possible for the unexpected. Preparing a list of questions for the airlines and reading information on the web will be of great assistance in your quest. Reviewing the Disability booklet from the U.S. Department of Transportation [information given below] will place you in a position of preparedness and confidence. Although there will be an enormous amount of variation as to how dependent each person is with a wheelchair, these are some tips that may be helpful for utilizing a wheelchair for airline traveling:
• If possible, try to get a non-stop flight.
• If you need to change planes, arrange the flight to allow at least one hour in transferring to another plane. Make a reservation on the telephone, as soon as you have your airline reservation. Contact the airlines and inform them that you will need a wheelchair, as well as a person to help in bringing you through security and possibly stay with you until your flight leaves. It is usually a courtesy to tip the person who assists you in a wheelchair.
• Once you arrive at the airlines to check in verbally inform the person behind the desk of the airline you’re flying or the sky cap so they can put this information into their computer [I was recently informed that by doing this “in person” it assures a wheelchair will be waiting on the other end of the flight/s.
• Sit as close to the front of the plane as possible. This will afford easy access getting on the plane, as well as when departing & you will be close to the bathroom. You may want to consider the first row since the bulkhead seats have a little more room. Also, there may be 4 or 5 other people requesting wheelchairs on your flight. By being the first one off the plane [particularly if you have to change planes], you will be the first one in a wheelchair. This is important when there are five people all waiting for assistants to arrive to wheel them to their destination.
• If you have your own wheelchair, contact the airlines to check on their individual procedures. I have read where it is important to utilize only “gel type cell batteries”, since many airlines may refuse wet cell batteries on their plane, due to possible dangers associated with them. Always put a permanent type of identification tag or marker on your wheelchair. If you checked your wheelchair with the airlines, verify with airline attendant to make sure it was loaded on the airplane. Call the particular airlines to check on any specific requests for your “own wheelchair”.
As with anyone who travels, I believe it is a smart idea to carry a Preparedness Bag. This bag may carry some of the following items:
Prescription & Non-prescriptions medications, including information on any allergies to medicines.
Phone numbers of friends, neighbors, medical contacts & emergency contact information.
Cell phone, paper and pen.
Linda Winkler Garvin, R.N., M.S.N., of Alameda, California, is Director of Health Management Associates, a health advocate and educator with an advanced degree in Nursing. She assists individuals in navigating the complexities of their health problems from medical treatment, health insurance issues, management of health issues and chronic pain. She is the author of several articles including, healthy lifestyles, travel, nutrition, health insurance, guided imagery & chronic health problems. Learn more at www.healthmanagerbayarea.com or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.