Travelling in a wheelchair for the first time or even the thirty-first time can be a daunting experience, I still get the jitters now, and I have been lucky enough to travel to many places, from many places in Europe to Thailand, Australia, South Africa, Hawaii, The Caribbean and other parts of the globe.
But the right mind set always helps, remember ‘Where there’s a Wheel, there’s a way!’
I thought by putting this little tip list together might help take those pre travel nerves away and make the experience a fun and enjoyable adventure.
• Chose where you want to go
• Google, google, google, I will normally put Wheelchair Accessible …… (Putting in the city or country). Most destinations will have substantial information on accessibility, if not on a specific website there is normally a forum where people have been chatting about it and you can gain some really good travel tips.
I recommend accessible travel club on Facebook
• Look out for cobbles, lots of steps and steep hills.
• I cannot personally advise on using a disabled travel company as I have never used one myself, if I am being honest I have always found them a bit more expensive and have always opted for arranging everything myself through bookings.com, British airways or directly with the hotel.
• The main hotel groups I can advise to look at which I have found have good accessibility are Holiday Inn, Inter Continental, Marriott, Hilton.
• On finding the hotel or hotels you want to stay at, contact them directly to discuss accessibility. What in room and hotel facilities do they have? How wide are the bedroom and bathroom doorframes? And ask for pictures should you need any further detail.
• Be specific, just because you know you cannot do stairs and require a ramp, does not mean they will know.
• Choose which airline you want to fly with, my recommendation would be BA. I know they can be a little more expensive but the service and support I have always experienced has been far better than with other airlines. But this really is personal preference.
• When you are ready to book, check to see if there is an accessible booking line.
• Upon booking make sure you have this information to hand: Manual or Auto chair, weight, sized.
• When booking the hotel always make sure you ask for a wheelchair accessible room with accessible bathroom.
• The airline may ask for a letter from your doctor with regards to your condition, being allowed to fly and any medication you have to take with you. This is easy enough to obtain from your GP. I would always suggest carrying one on you when travelling, and always carry your medication in your hand luggage, just in case.
• Make sure you have more than enough of the equipment and medication you need.
• Remember to get your insurance, this can sometimes be done free through your bank so try them first, otherwise once I have been recommended in the past are Fish Insurance. , HolidaySafe, Insureandgo
• Always pre book airport parking as there are always deals to be had.
• Buses to and from the car parks I have found to always be accessible, either with a ramp or they lower to the curb.
• If you have not booked in the night before, head to the check in desk and ensure they tag your wheelchair with a luggage tag as well as a long orange tag, this means that you require your chair to be brought to the door of the plane when you land and it is not put onto the carousel!
• Also make sure you check in with the Assistance Team. They will need your passport and ticket. I get the team to meet me at the gate with an aisle chair so I am able to board the plane. But they can help you from that point until getting onto the plane, it is whatever you prefer.
• When going through customs there are specific lanes for wheelchairs, which means you jump the queues and can get into duty free quicker. Every Cloud!
• While waiting for the plane get your flight socks on, these will help with circulation during the flight. If you forget them don’t worry a pharmacy in the airport will sell them.
• Ready to board! The plane will either be connected to a jetty, which means wheeling through the airport or into a tunnel to the plane or it will just be parked. This entails getting onto something I can only describe as a porter cabin on wheels, it is fully accessible and you will drive to the side of the plane, the porter cabin will go up into the air and then connect to the plane via the other door.
• If you require an aisle chair then this will be available to transfer to at the door of the plane, they can be a bit wonky but the assistant staff, are very helpful and will get you on, strap you in and of you go.
• When transferred from your chair I would suggest using a large strap to strap the wheels to the frame itself, if you have not been able to get it onto the chair into a cupboard.
• Some people chose to take their cushion onto the plane and sit on the cushion; some airplanes seats will remove to enable to put your cushion into the hole.
• Always make sure you have your seat number to hand, so they can get you to where you need to go and all being well the arm to the seat lifts up so you can easily transfer. On long haul flights I try to get a bulk head seat, this way my partner can sit in front of me and help move my leg around to keep the blood flowing.
• With regards to the toilet, I will always bag up for a flight and a holiday, I know the Doctors don’t really like this, but I just feel it gives me more freedom and if there is no toilet available a bottle is!
• If you decide to cafeterise I would suggest to carry an empty bottle to empty the bag, this way you don’t have to keep connecting and disconnecting, keep life simple.
• I will always have extra cafeters, bags and flip flows in my suitcase and hand luggage and all the necessary equipment to remove and insert the cafeter should anything unto wards happen while on the flight.
• I also make sure when I am flying that I wear tena night pads, just in case of transfer leaks or anything else. It’sbetter to be safe than sorry.
• I eat a little less on the days leading up to a flight to help with minimising the number 2’s and also take immodium prior to flying and ensure I have this on the plane with me.
• Most airplanes will have an aisle chair on board, so if you do need to head to the loo then it is easy enough for the staff to get the chair and assist you to the toilet. Although the toilets are very small and I have to be lifted in by my other half.
• To get off the plane will be the reverse of how you got on the plane; you will be taken off last so sit back and shill while everyone disembarks.
• Prior to arriving you should have done your homework on transport, are the buses accessible? Do they have accessible taxis? Can you get an accessible transfer? Make sure you are savvy on this so that when you arrive this is not a worry for you.
• The last and more important thing of all is ENJOY x
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