Flying with a wheelchair

Think Air Travel is Bad? Try it with an electric wheelchairThere you are, impatiently waiting in line for security to roam through your bags and scan your entire body, when all you want to do is board the next airplane to Chicago and make it home for the holidays. Most people haven’t thought of how a person with a disability travels, but this infographic created by Easter Seals will give you a good idea of the difficulties during airline travel.

Time is one of the most valuable commodities in a person’s life. We all want our everyday routines and activities to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and this goes for airline travel as well. By taking a few moments to look at the infographic, you can see just how much extra time it takes for a person with a disability to travel via the airlines. You can put yourself in my shoes for a moment, too, just by reading through this list:

  • Check-in and security: As a C3 quadriplegic, and a man who uses a wheelchair to get around, I have to arrive at least an hour earlier than most to get all my things checked in for the flight. Not only do I have to check in my normal luggage, filled with clothes and a few extra beach towels, depending on the destination, I also have to check in all the medical equipment I need when traveling: a lift to help get me in and out of bed, an extra ventilator, and multiple pieces of other specialized equipment.
  • Boarding the plane: Currently there is no set procedure allowing someone who uses a wheelchair to conveniently roll into the plane and strap themselves down. We have to be transferred out of our own customized wheelchairs to board the plane. A “lift team” raises me from my own chair to what they call an aisle chair. An aisle chair is no larger than a child’s play stool, and I am six feet two inches tall, I weigh 225 pounds, and I cannot breathe on my own. Needless to say, this transfer is never easy.
  • Finding a seat: After the transfer to the aisle chair, they roll me to my seat on the plane and they repeat the “lift” process, wrapping their arms around me, lifting me up, and placing me in my airline seat.
  • Landing: Hooray! We’ve made it safely to our destination. Oh yeah, then I remember. Once everyone else has disembarked, We have to do this “lift” thing all over again to get me back in that undersized aisle chair.
  • Baggage claim: During flights, my $40,000 customized wheelchair is stowed beneath the plane with all the other baggage. So as I balance on the aisle chair and am rolled away from the gate past the conveniently-placed escalators to find the out-of-the-way elevators, I worry that my own wheelchair might be bent, broken or not in working order when we find it at baggage claim. If we find it there, that is. Imagine if my chair is damaged and I have nothing to transfer back into. It’d be like finding your car with no wheels. I wouldn’t be on time for my next scheduled flight, and, most importantly, I would have no form of personal transportation.

I don’t mean for this blog post to be a complaint about the procedures in place for individuals using wheelchairs at airports. I’m using this post as an opportunity to inform the public of the necessity for a change. I have created an Accessible Airline’s Proposal and an Accessible Airline’s Petition which I encourage you to read and sign! The purpose of each document is to improve accessibility for individuals in wheelchairs, like myself, who challenge the current barriers of airline transportation, and are advocating for a change to make travel easier and more accessible. After reading this post, I can only hope that next time you are traveling, you might think twice about how “difficult” your experience has been, and remember there are others out there who sometimes struggle just to physically make it to their seat on an airplane. Bon voyage!


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