Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Travel Tips for People Who Use Wheelchairs

These tips are from the Access for Disabled Americans Web site (www.accessfordisabled.com):

1. If you are able to fly first class, go for it -- more room and lot more enjoyable. If not, try to get the first bulkhead seats; they are closer to the front of the aircraft and they give you more room if you should have spasms.

2. If possible, book a nonstop flight. You'll have fewer problems with a wheelchair. If you can't, always allow at least 45 minutes for connecting flights. Some wheelchair travelers prefer to have a change of aircraft for an hour or so. It gives them time to relax, get something to eat, stretch or use airport restrooms.

3. If possible, travel with an attendant to help with transfers, your meals or to shift your weight around. Carry an "emergency bag" on the airplane; it should hold daily necessities, a change of clothing, medication, tools for your wheelchair and any other items you would need if your baggage doesn't arrive when you do.

4. If traveling in a power-driven wheelchair, be sure that you have gel-cell batteries. They're less hassle. Some airlines refuse to carry wet-cell batteries -- too dangerous -- and they will ask. They may require a form to be filled out.

5. Wheelchair passengers are the first to board and the last to get off. You can stay in your wheelchair until you get to the gate; you'll transfer to an "aisle chair" -- a narrow high-back chair with no sides and straps to hold you in. If you have assistance and were able to snag the first bulk-head seat, you can be carried from your wheelchair to the seat.

6. Your wheelchair will be loaded into the baggage compartment. Be sure airline personnel know how to handle it. Are there detatchable parts? Remove them and put them in a carry-on bag. Or tape a list of instructions on the wheelchair. Always put the wheelchair in manual for easier pushing and less danger to your power unit. Many wheelchair travelers remove the power unit since it is the most important part of the wheelchair.

7. Before the aircraft leaves the ground, ask the airline attendant to make sure your wheelchair was loaded in the aircraft. If you make a connecting flight, ask that your wheelchair made the same change.

8. If you are connecting to another flight and have a few hours, tell airline personnel you would like to have your wheelchair brought to the gate for the layover. You will be much more comfortable in your own wheelchair

Recommended Reading

A booklet -- "New Horizons for the Air Traveler With a Disability" -- is very handy and free. Order from the U.S. Department of Transportation/Consumer Affairs Dept.

400 Seventh St. SW, Washington, DC 20590; 202-272-2004.

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