10 Tips for Traveling with a Wheelchair
Matt and I recently took a weekend trip to Denver and were super nervous about flying with the wheelchair for the first time. It was fun, challenging, and overall very much worth the effort. Here are a few things we learned along the way . . .
1. Utilize the wheelchair for transporting luggage. This may not work for an elderly or sick traveler, but Matt was able to help me with luggage by carrying it on his lap, which allowed me to push him and manage our other bags.
2. Practice! Everything we read about flying with a power chair said that it would get damaged in the process, so we took Matt’s manual chair instead. I had transferred Matt in and out of the manual chair about half a dozen times, but probably quadrupled that over the course of our weekend in Denver. A little more practice would have definitely helped me, as well as made Matt more comfortable with the process.
3. Pack for an extra day. There are some things that you might need during your trip that can’t be picked up at a local Walgreens. Bring an extra day or two’s worth of those items. We had an issue with our flight home and were stuck in Denver for an extra day. Extra supplies would have definitely come in handy.
4. But don’t go crazy. When Matt and I started travelling together, we took a weekend away and went nuts. We practically packed our whole house, worried that we wouldn’t have something we needed. I’m talking three wheelchairs, a year’s worth of supplies, and medical equipment we had never even used or needed. After several more weekends away, I found that minimal packing added a sense of normalcy, and made checking into a hotel a WHOLE lot easier. Bring what you need, but go without things you know you can do without or can pick up at a local store if you run into an emergency.
5. Be prepared to meet some awesome, kind people. And some douchebags. It was amazing how many awesome people we came across. On our flight home I had been running through the airport pushing Matt, juggling boarding passes, and trying to manage our bags, when the kindest woman dropped what she was doing to ask if there was anything she could do to help us. I wanted to cry. You’ll also have people that ignore the chair, cut in front of you, and act like you are an inconvenience. One of the flight attendants we came across would not allow me to get up to help Matt readjust in his seat.
6. It always helps when you travel with/meet up with a friend. Especially your first time. Our first weekend getaway was intentionally to Denver, because one of our best friends lives in Colorado. He met up with us and was a huge help getting Matt in and out of cabs, as well as getting him around downtown.
7. Give yourself a little extra time. While you do get to skip ahead of the security check in, you also have to consider that transferring in and out of cabs, pushing a wheelchair and managing luggage, as well as a RIDICULOUS amount of elevators can also slow you down. Give yourself a little extra time just to be safe.
8. Call ahead for accessible transportation options. We stayed at a hotel that paid for accessible cabs since their free shuttle was not wheelchair accessible. Score! There were also a lot of cab companies that had accessible cabs that could be reserved with 24 hour notice.
9. Bring a cushion for your seat on the plane. When you can’t get up and move around, flights can be super uncomfortable on the tush. The last thing you want to deal with when you land is the start of a pressure sore. Bring your wheelchair cushion onto the plane with you, and have the attendant set it on your seat before you are transferred into it. A happy tush makes for a happy traveler.
10. Be prepared to go with the flow. In our first flight, the crew knew exactly what to do, and we were boarded on the plane quickly and efficiently. The next several flights were not that way. We were boarded last on our second flight, and were taken all the way to the back of the plane. Getting off that flight, the attendant literally hit the aisle chair Matt was sitting in against every single seat multiple times (there were over 40). Our last flight boarded on the ground, and the ramp was so narrow they had to practically tip Matt over to get him on that plane. If he hadn’t had a smile on his face the whole time, it could have turned into an extremely stressful disaster.
Overall it was a great (though challenging) weekend, and I have to give some serious props to the coordinators of Riotfest in Denver. Matt and his buddy Trevor are huge punk rock fans, so we ended up going to the festival for a day. Not only was the event staff super accommodating, but they built a viewing area specifically for people that were handicapped so they could see the show. It wasn’t sponsored and there was no fee for getting on it, so they did it purely for the benefit of people like Matt. I can’t even express how cool that is.