I first went in a plane as a child with family including in an air-ambulance. I acted confidently when I first went in a plane solo and airline staff were shocked that it was only my first time solo. I much prefer big planes because its a smoother and quieter journey. This is my guide to the five top things you should know when flying with a wheelchair. It’s important to be organised and arrive extra early to check-in.
Let the airline know of your needs
It’s important to let the airline know my disability needs and the requirements of my wheelchair after making your booking. This is my checklist to what you need to know before calling the airline:
- The flight details
- Weight of wheelchair
- Width, length, height of wheelchair
- If the wheelchair frame is collapsible or had a rigid frame
- If your wheelchair has a battery and the details of the battery
- I can’t walk so request the aisle chair and lifter or ramp to board and disembark if a drawbridge isn’t used.
- It is possible to also ask for any extra help needed including going through the checkpoints to fly internationally and getting luggage off the carousel and finding transport.
These details can be reconfirmed on check-in. I make sure my wheelchair is tagged on check-in. It’s a bonus too when my wheelchair is well looked after and can go in premium hand luggage. You will be allocated your seat and usually sit fairly close to the front of the plane.
The Pat down
I cannot wheel through the metal detectors in a wheelchair. Instead, prepare for a pat down. It does feel a bit like an invasion but doesn’t take long. You can request a private room.
First on and last off
Prepare to be one of the first to board the plane and one of the last to disembark. I always find it amusing that once landed and the seatbelt signs are off that people immediately stand up and want to get off the plane before the doors are even open!
On one occasion I was one of the last passengers to board because my plane had been delayed and I didn’t have much gap in between my flights.
The aisle chair is skinny. There are many different types of aisle chairs with some having armrests and a seatbelt. I am a small person and even I feel like I’m holding my breath to be able to fit. It cannot be pushed by the wheelchair user but will be by a member of airline staff. At times it feels like the aisle gets skinnier and skinnier as the aisle chair weaves it’s way to your seat. I do prefer to sit a few rows back from the front.
How to board and disembark
The easiest way is when the plane has a drawbridge and you only need the aisle chair and your own wheelchair. It also avoids going on the windy tarmac. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible at smaller airports or with small planes. Instead a lifter or ramp is used.
I prefer the lifter. I sit in the aisle chair and go in what looks like a massive white box. The box is lifted straight up and moved forward to be level with the plane. Then I am pushed into the plane and onto my seat.
It’s becoming more common for airports to have ramps. Tamworth airport has a ramp which I have used. Ramps are quicker. It can feel scary when someone else is pushing the chair though.