Flying With Wheels – Our Top Tips
When my wife and I first got together (almost exactly 15 years ago), we spent a lot of time traveling and going on city breaks. Ever since MS entered the story (and since having our child), this has been a little more complicated. But recently we traveled from the UK to Philadelphia for HUConnexion18. This had an extra level of planning as it was our first time traveling with a wheelchair.
These might be old news for some readers but hopefully it will be useful for some of you.
If your wheelchair has lots of removable parts, pack a big blue Ikea bag in your hand luggage. In our case this meant that my seat cushion and foot plates could be easily go in the overhead storage. We also had luggage tags for the chair and Bungee Cord Straps (with hooks) to secure the chassis and the wheels.
People with MS are used to planning to the nth degree whenever they go anywhere. But I called the airline we were traveling with at least three times before our flight. This was our first time traveling with a wheelchair and we weren’t sure how it was going to work.
However, they advised us to check our chair in with our luggage. This turned out to be not the best decision for us.
On our outward flight, after checking in our luggage and picking up an airport wheelchair, we were left to our own devices. If we’d have kept our own chair it would’ve at least given me an option to propel myself for a bit. As it was, my wife had to push me around the airport before our outward flight.
Next time, we will insist on keeping our chair with us until we are on the plane – then we’ll strip the breakables off, use our luggage straps to secure the chassis, and the chair can be dropped straight into the hold.
Our airline made this sound like a major pain in the neck but we’ll insist in the future. At least we’ll know for sure that my chair is on the right flight!
Get to the airport as early as possible
No, I don’t really get why people with MS aren’t entitled to more rest when traveling. But this seems to be our cross to bear.
We ended up getting stuck in traffic traveling to our outward flight. Which meant that we got a bit panicky which doesn’t help anyone. Luckily we’re quick learners – for the flight back we arrived at least four hours before we were due to leave. It might sound ridiculous, but at least this gave us time to catch our breath!
Wear slip-on shoes!
Self-explanatory. Air security continues to be tough. The chances are you’ll be asked to remove your shoes at least once when you go through security. Don’t hold everyone up – you know how impatient they can be! Similarly, it helped that we spent some time sorting out our hand luggage in advance.
Request assistance – frequently!
One thing we learned (and which is a constant battle for me to this day) is that there’s no shame in asking for assistance. On our return we had a member of airport staff to help get me from the entrance right up to the gate.
Which was great up until they dropped us off and took the wheelchair away… and we realized that the nearest toilets were miles away. And then our flight was promptly moved to a different gate. So we were stuck!
Brilliantly we got a member of airport staff to get us one of those cool golf buggy-type vehicles to speed us to our actual gate.
As I said before, we were super-early for this flight. Which meant that when we noticed flight attendants getting ready for boarding, my wife asked if we might be able to get on the plane first.
This was brilliant – I never liked fighting through crowds of impatient people even before I was diagnosed. Another thing I never understood about air travel is why everyone wants to dash off the plane as soon as they’ve landed. We had a perfect excuse to wait until everyone else had disembarked.
And guess what? Our suitcases took the same amount of time to arrive!
It was stressful in the build up with all of the extra planning. But it was SO worth it. Everybody was really helpful and we’ll feel more confident about traveling next time (Italy in July).
But we know one succesful flight doesn’t make us experts. What other tips do you have?