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Posted 15/01/2023 in Experiences

Travelling by Air? - Stressful?

Travelling by Air?  - Stressful?

BBC's Article aired on 13th January 2023

Travelling by Air - Stressful? 

Read our tips following BBC TV's 'Rip off Britain ' which highlights some serious service failures.

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In the BBC programme, the first article highlighted two ladies from Stockport , UK , who booked a trip with tour operator TUI , for a much needed holiday in Spain's Costa Blanca with their disabled daughters, both of whom have complex needs. A whole range of service failures meant that everything that should have been in place was not. This was despite the ladies having communicated all the requirements to TUI.

 TUI Special Needs

Another lady who is a permanent wheelchair user,  experienced difficulties when JET2 had difficulties loading her chair into the cargo hold. This lady has travelled the world extensively and has experienced many difficulties with embarking and disembarking aircraft.

Not Much Progress, Really

BBC TV's 'Rip off Britain ' highlighted two situations which have once again shown that travelling by air for disabled travellers has progressed very little over the past 30 years or so.

I don't think many of us can say that they are totally relaxed when leaving home on the day of a holiday or trip where air travel is involved. There is just so much to think about and stress over. If you or a family member have a disability these concerns are greatly multiplied.:

What About Me?

  • Do the airline know about me and my needs?
  • Will I have to queue for ages at check-in or will someone help me?
  • Will they board me first?
  • Is the special aisle chair going to be ready for me?
  • Are they going to charge me extra for the medical kit and care items I have to take?
  • The toilet on board is impossible for me to use. What can I do?
  • Is the seating on the aircraft suitable for me?
  • Will the baggage handlers damage my wheelchair?
  • When I get to my destination, how can I be sure that my wheelchair will be at the aircraft door and not sent to baggage reclaim?
  • Am I going to have to wait an eternity for my wheelchair and assistance?
Plans for the Future.... (Image Courtesy 'Air4All')
'All Wheels Up' - One Proposed Solution

Why Can't I Stay in My Wheelchair?

It is still not possible to remain in your wheelchair whilst travelling by air,. There has been many years of campaigning and painstaking design work carried out by organisations such as Air4All and campaigning by the USA's All Wheels Up . This has aimed to demonstrate to Government bodies (such as the UK's CAA and America's FAA) that this could and would be safe and workable. Sadly, progress is slow in getting this realised. 

Haycomp's 'EAGLE LIFTER' - available at several UK airports.
A Selection of Support Systems (Courtesy: RBF Healthcare)

Here Are Our Tips....

Enable my Trip are dedicated to encouraging everyone to 'get out there' and  experience the world, and we strive to help our website users eliminate or at least minimise such awful occurrences. Here are our tips:

  1. Get confirmation in writing from the airline that they understand your very specific requirements and will meet your needs. Check, check and check again.

  1. If needed get a 'MEDIF' (medical information) form from your airline, fully completed and signed by your doctor. Email this to the appropriate department of your airline and get their confirmation that you are 'fit to fly'.

  1. Double check that the airline are totally aware of the weight and dimensions of your chair. (Airport check -in staff always ask this question and never seem to have the information to hand!)

  1. Don't forget that lithium batteries have to be removed from your electric wheelchair and need to be carried as hand luggage.

  1. Check out some excellent body supporting items suitable for those with little head and/or trunk control. It may be possible to rent instead of buy. Some airlines provide these FOC: https://www.johnpreston.co.uk/burnett-premier-full-body-chair-vaccum-support . Consider taking some small foam or inflatable cushions.

  1. Certain airlines will charge you a pretty penny to have inflight oxygen provided by them, though these are in the minority. Some holiday airlines like TUI do not provide in-flight oxygen for medical needs. You have to take your own O2 concentrator (there is a list of approved models).

  1. Essential care supplies and medical equipment fall outside of your normal baggage allowance and should never be an extra charge.  See the link here: https://www.caa.co.uk/passengers/prm/travelling-with-mobility-and-medical-equipment/

  1. If you are wondering how getting on and off the aircraft will work for you of any of your family, please contact https://www.qef.org.uk/service/accessible-aviation/tryb4ufly/  "QEF's Tryb4uFly service aims to empower disabled people, so you can make informed choices and be more confident about flying. "

  1. If you baggage is 'fragile' or 'medical supplies' label it as such.
Some airlines provide inflight oxygen from an overhead port (i.e. no need for cylinders)
Beware that some airlines will charge a tidy sum for inflight oxygen on a few long-haul routes

Look at These Links For Great Information:

  1. Check out some excellent blog articles for useful tips from others: These are  from 'Simply Emma' : https://www.simplyemma.co.uk/how-to-survive-a-long-haul-flight-as-a-wheelchair-user/ and https://www.simplyemma.co.uk/how-the-easytravelseat-makes-air-travel-simple-for-disabled-travellers/ ; https://www.simplyemma.co.uk/planning-trip-abroad-mobility-scooter-user/ ; https://www.simplyemma.co.uk/tips-for-disabled-and-wheelchair-accessible-travel/  . And this one from USA based 'Wheelchair Travel' : https://wheelchairtravel.org/air-travel/  

  1. Check out the UK airport's special assistance information:

London Heathrow: https://www.heathrow.com/at-the-airport/accessibility-and-mobility-help

Manchester: https://www.manchesterairport.co.uk/help/special-assistance/

Exeter: https://www.exeter-airport.co.uk/special-assistance/

London Gatwick: https://www.gatwickairport.com/at-the-airport/passenger-services/special-assistance/how-to-book/

Cardiff: https://www.cardiff-airport.com/special-assistance/

London Stansted: https://www.stanstedairport.com/help/special-assistance/requesting-assistance/

Bristol: https://www.stanstedairport.com/help/special-assistance/requesting-assistance/

Glasgow: https://www.glasgowairport.com/special-assistance/

Leeds Bradford : https://www.leedsbradfordairport.co.uk/help/special-assistance

Aberdeen: https://www.leedsbradfordairport.co.uk/help/special-assistance

Luton: https://www.london-luton.co.uk/special-assistance-landing

Edinburgh: https://www.edinburghairport.com/prepare/special-assistance-and-additional-needs

Liverpool: https://www.liverpoolairport.com/assisted-travel

Similar Information is available at your destination, and is quite easy to locate using an internet search, for example:

Tenerife (South) https://www.tfsairport.com/airport/disability-assistance/

New York (JFK) : https://www.jfkairport.com/at-airport/accessibility-services

You should never be charged excess baggage fees for essential medical equipment and personal care items.
Damage like this to a mobile hoist (the metal on which the wheel is fixed is very bent) should be reported straight away to the airline when retrieving your luggage on arrival.

Nothing Like Having a Good Checklist!

Have a comprehensive check list of absolutely everything you need, and don't forget to order medication and other items well in advance , making sure you have enough for the whole trip and a week after you get back.

Is My Stuff Acctually on the Plane I Am Travelling On?

Before boarding the aircraft, confirm with the gate staff that all the baggage you checked in is actually loaded onto the aircraft you are about to board. This is particularly important for things like essential care items, moving and handling equipment and liquid enteral nutrition. You will need to present your baggage tags to do this. Medication should always be carried as hand luggage as should electrical equipment complete with the appropriate charges and leads. Never pack these into hold luggage!

WORST disembarkation experiences at Heathrow's Terminal 5
BEST disembarkation experience at Tokyo's Haneda airport

Our Experiences of the WORST and BEST...

For the author of this article, having travelled with two permanent wheelchair users with complex needs , over many years , these are our best and worst experiences:

  1. WORST disembarkation experience - British Airways Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. After a  16-hour flight 2 hours and 20 minutes to locate wheelchairs.

  1. BEST - British Airways, Tokyo Haneda airport no wait whatsoever.

  1. WORST aircraft transfer experience by Emirates in DUBAI. They transferred the wheelchairs from the arriving flight straight to the London bound aircraft. Result: no wheelchairs to get from one aircraft to the other (these are specially moulded to provide trunk and head control - no airport wheelchairs are safe or acceptable). Result: a lot of stress and a1 hour 30 minute delay to the London flight, and then trying to load two carry on passengers onto a packed aeroplane.

  1. BEST service failure recovery - Virgin Atlantic at Orlando Airport. Body supports ('Burnett Body Brace') ordered but put onto the wrong aircraft bound for Manchester. Free upgrades to Upper Class offered and accepted.

  1. BEST and most comfortable transfer to aircraft seat: London Gatwick Airport using the 'Eagle Hoist' from Haycomp. All beautifully organised by P & O Cruises.

  1. WORST seating positioning : IBERIA from Barcelona to London. Allocated seating to the rear of a narrow bodied jet despite vacant seats nearer the door being available.

  1. BEST overall inflight experiences: long-haul on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Friendly, efficient and attentive service on all flights, which number over 20+

Finally, this should not happen but be prepared for some hiccups along the way; when things go wrong it can be upsetting and stressful. If you feel it is necessary, be prepared to show the relevant people confirmed acknowledgement and proof about your needs, try to remain calm and amiable!