Leaving on a Jet Plane – Tips and Tricks

Planning a trip can be stressful at the best of times. Planning a trip when you have to take accessibility concerns into account adds an extra level to that stress, but it is so worth it! We love to travel with our wheel love’s and have gotten a lot of requests to do a post on travel, so we thought we would start off with some of our travel tips and tricks.

  1. Do your research. Check out where you want to travel too; google, blogs and forums are all great resources when your looking to see how accessible a certain destination is. Also look into the things that you are interested in doing there. Checking to see if a tourist attraction is accessible before getting there is a great way to avoid disappointment. Use the internet, talk to other people and make some phone calls. Being prepared is key.
  2. Book an accessible hotel room. We have found that sometimes regular rooms work just fine, but other times they don’t. We’ve been in hotel rooms where we have had to take the door off the bathroom so the chair would fit, and we have also broken a vanity leg off in a bathroom that was supposed to be accessible but just wasn’t wide enough. If you’re still a little skeptical, call the hotel with your questions; how wide are the doorways, does the room have a roll in shower, is there a shower bench available, are the beds too high to transfer onto, etc.
  3. When your booking your flights, pay attention to where your seat on the plane is. Our men hate that dreaded aisle chair… Shawn says he feels like Hannibal Lecter when he’s strapped into that thing. Most times you can upgrade to first class (or the first row) and the wheelchair will fit up to that point so the aisle chair isn’t needed. We’ve even gotten lucky enough to be given this upgrade for free after explaining the situation.
  4. Shop around for travel insurance and don’t think of going anywhere without it. You never know what can happen or when an unexpected UTI or femur break is going to put a wrench in your plans, so make sure you are prepared. Don’t just pick the cheapest travel insurance you can find, make sure you are getting exactly what you need and that they realize you have a pre-existing condition, like your wheelchair.
  5. Bring extra medications with you. You never know if you are going to be delayed somewhere without access to a pharmacy. Or, if you are prone to something like UTI’s, you can talk to your Dr before leaving and get a prescription for an antibiotic to take with you just in case. It’s better to be prepared than caught without the necessities.
  6. Invest in a travel toilet seat. This has been a life saver for our wheel love’s and their tiny, bony butts. You can buy something as big as a travel commode that folds up, or just a small seat that fits in your suitcase, but it makes doing your business much easier, much safer, and much more comfortable.
  7. Skip the morning coffee. If you do intermittent catheters, like James, on shorter flights he likes to keep the liquid intake at a minimal. This decreases the chances of having to start world war 3 on an airplane just to get to the bathroom.
  8. Keep calm… it’s just a wheelchair! We find airport staff extremely accommodating most of the time, however, the odd freak out does occur. When seeing someone in a wheelchair board a plane, staff tends to talk faster, breathe harder and sweat a little more. Just reassure them it will all be ok, we can get through this together and it’s just a wheelchair!
  9. There is no shortage of help. After a trip to Italy with cobble stone roads and stairs on every corner, we have learned that there is always someone able to help. You will, however, have to be willing to ask for it. In order to go on a date and eat the most amazing pizza I have ever had, James and I had to conquer 3 sets of stairs in Venice. Here, we discovered the most amazing secret: if you roll up to the bottom of a staircase and look up, maybe look a little desperate within 5 seconds someone always gives you a hand!
  10. Pack an emergency carry on bag. It doesn’t matter where we are going, we always pack a carry on bag with all the essentials. You never know when your luggage is going to get lost so it’s just peace of mind to have a bag with everything to hold you over until it is returned. We pack catheters, jelly, everything needed for bowel routines, medications, a change of clothes, an extra leg bag and night bag, and anything else that you would be hooped without. We also make sure to take the cushion off the wheelchair and bring it onto the plane with us because those things are expensive and who knows what happens to that wheelchair when it’s in cargo!

So, don’t stress too much! You are on a fun adventure with your loved one. Part of the fun is overcoming challenges and creating new ways to solve problems. The world is far from accessible, but don’t let that deter you from seeing it! What other things have you found super handy while travelling? Be sure to share your tips and tricks with us and in the mean time, keep calm and travel on!

Pushing on…

Sam & Chelsea

13 thoughts on “Leaving on a Jet Plane – Tips and Tricks

  1. I store my freewheel in a Tennis Racket bag and have made it into a back pack by adding a guitar strap to the carry strap it comes with. With my duffle bag luggage on my lap and freewheel on my back, it meant I was completely independent getting luggage from the airport to the car when assistance disappeared 😀

  2. I’m a C-6 quad & have been in a wheelchair for almost 28 years. I too have had good & bad experiences traveling. Some things I’ve learned regarding air travel is that you should contact the airline a couple of days before your flight & explain your needs. American Airlines, for example, will provide an attendant to take you from the curb, escort you thru security (saving standing/sitting in line) & escort you to the gate. They also allow one free bag for medical equipment saving you $25 – $50 a bag. Also let them now if you need the dolly that allows access down the aisle of the airplane. Sometimes it takes a while for them to find them if they don’t know in advance.

    Regarding vacations my wife & I find that cruises are great for people in wheelchairs. Accessibility has really improved in the industry due to an aging population using wheelchairs & scooters. Most cruise lines (Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, etc) have at least one lift allocated to a pool & one lift allocated to a hot tub so those with mobility issues are able to get in & out pretty easily. The crew is also very attentive to people in wheelchairs. Another positive is you only have to unpack & pack once while travelling to several different places. We just got back from a 10-day cruise to the Panama Canal & had a great time. I was able to get on & off the ship problem free & explore the ports. Some shops are a bit difficult to access but my wife & I always figure something out.

    Just my two-cents.

    1. My husband and I 😍 Cruising as well! We live in South Florida so no flights just a quick drive to the port and we are there! Highly recommend it….we always say…unpack once! Totally agree!

  3. I love to fly, but I now have an electric tilt chair, that I can’t take a chance on.
    my last 2 flight’s before the tilt part of chair I’ve had to make a damage claim’s

  4. Great article!
    My wife and I flew home from our hospital stay.
    Because of my wife’s level of injury we struggled.We used a comfort carrier and were in first class row 2.The first class passengers would not wait for us to be seated.Luckly we practiced at our hospital to board a plane and be seated.Thank god our pilot was a trained EMT,or the help the airlines sent was not getting us off the plane.We were told not to bring our power wheel chair.(mailed it home)When we checked in we were allowed to check 4 bags free,which meant I didn’t have to carry on 7 bags.We planned to have someone meet us at a direct flight airport so we didn’t have to transfer to another plane.All in all we survived,but probally will not fly until airlines make planes wheelchair accessible.I am happy that we prepared months ahead,and had consulted with wheelchair flying experts.

  5. We find it helpful to have a sturdy pair of gloves for wheeling in big cities like New York because Rob’s hands get so dirty on the streets of Manhattan!

  6. If you are Canadian, be sure to check out the “One person, One fare” Program when travelling with WestJet. This program allows any person with a permanent physical disability to travel anywhere in Canada with a companion for one fare (eg. I fly with my girlfriend from Ontario to BC and we only have to pay for my ticket). This program is super easy to be a part of and only requires a signature on a document (provided by WestJet) by your family physician. For someone who flies frequently, I’ve saved thousands of dollars and it is great way to travel with ANYONE (family, friends, partners, work colleagues, etc).

    Bonus tip: Get your physician to check the box on the form that indicates you need extra leg room (e.g. for spasms, etc). This will allow to you to sit first class on every single WestJet flight you take, for no increased cost. Also, you get food and beverages for free!

    Travelling around Canada has never been so easy and affordable!!

    ps. On long flights, leg bags can be a life saver. No stress. No dehydration.

    pps. LOVE THIS BLOG. My girlfriend and I subscribed recently and read every post together (hence the speed in which we are commenting!). The information and insight you two are providing is invaluable. Thank you for spreading love, hope, honesty and compassion. We are so grateful.

    1. Thanks for the tips, Rob! So glad you and your girlfriend found us! Welcome to the Wheel Love community!

      1. My husband and I LOVE your site and I cannot explain my gratitude for your commitment to this endeavor to give others support. My husband is a C7 and we love traveling and always say we are going to create blog for others to make their travels easier but now we can contribute to Wheel Love!
        We absolutely love your videos as they are sooooo relatable. Not something anyone around us understands. Its not like I can go in to work after a crazy morning and talk to a co-worker about how I was up since 4 a.m doing laundry and changing the sheets because of a condom leak ….LOL….so nice having support! Thank you

    2. Thanks for the info regarding WestJet. Never knew that before. Hopefully will make it cheaper to visit family next time.

      1. Air Canada has the same ‘One Fare’ program. Important though is that if you sign up for the program, the PWAD will not be allowed to travel alone ever again without losing their rights to this service. So, consider signing up with one of the airlines that offers this (the one you travel with most together) and leave the other airline as a backup in case the PWAD has to travel alone (ie. in an urgent case scenario, most airlines and cabs can accommodate partially capable quad/para passengers). If you do a reasonably good seated transfer on your own, the airlines attendants have been trained to help with your instruction…or at least they should have been). Ask before boarding the plane if the armrest comes up in the seat you are being assigned to…some don’t have the button). And it’s good for your travel partner to learn where that button is too 😉

  7. All fantastic points that my wife and I have done many times. Haven’t picked up a travel toilet seat but that’s going on the list. If I can add two more points:

    1> Don’t just check where your seat is on the plane, but also check what kind of plane you are travelling on. If it’s a huge one for international flights, you don’t have to worry about the size of your chair (this applies more to power chair users). If your doing short hop flights, especially overseas, do your research! A lot of the puddle jumpers have small cargo holds that might not fit your chair!
    2> If you are a manual chair user, consider investing in a Freewheel! On a trip to Boston as part of a cruise a few years back, I had to turn back after a few hours as the cobble stones all over downtown Boston were killing me. The front casters kept getting stuck on everything and I almost got tossed a few times. Flash forward a few years and I had my Freewheel (it’s an extra large wheel that attaches to your footplate) and I was wheeling around Jamaica in even rougher terrain with no issues. It takes a bit of space in your luggage but is well worth it! (I don’t have any stake in freewheels, just love mine)

    One last point, I’ve also found that people tend to show up out of nowhere to help get me around terrain that my wife and I can’t handle ourselves (which isn’t much). Just have a plan to get back to your starting point if you find yourselves on your own!

    We are planning a trip for Japan later this year, so that ought to be an adventure. Great advice above for all!

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