Travel Tips for Wheelchair Users
Travelling in a wheelchair can either go really well, or quickly turn into a very unpleasant experience. To achieve the former, for the most part, it’s all about being prepared and thoroughly planning your journey. Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or doing it for the first time, travelling on a wheelchair is already a stressful endeavour, so it’s best that everyone involved in the experience is well prepared. Here are 9 tips for travelling with a wheelchair:
Benjamin Franklin once said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” and he is absolutely right. A huge part of travelling on a wheelchair is planning your travel. From your departure to your arrival with everything in between, your necessities and movement at your destination, your back up plan on possible scenarios, etc. Brainstorm possible scenarios and solutions with your travel group and assign them roles if necessary. As hard as it is for a wheelchair user, it could be just as taxing for the group if they are not prepared to face possible problems.
One of the smartest things to do for any traveller is to get in touch with peers who have been to the selected destination, or who have travelled a lot themselves. For travellers on wheelchairs, it is even more vital because fellow wheelchair users who have travelled to your upcoming destination or have experience travelling in a wheelchair will be able to give you a pretty good idea of what to expect and what to look out for. You can read as many tips as you want online, but actually experiencing the entire ordeal is the best gauge of what to expect.
For air travel, typically, travellers are expected to arrive at the airport an hour early for domestic flights and 2-3 hours early for international flights. For ground travel, arriving 15-30 mins before departure is usually sufficient. However, for wheelchair users, it is definitely a better idea to arrive an extra hour earlier for air travel, and at least an extra 30 mins earlier for ground travel. On the rare occasion that there is water travel involved, learn the facility and find out if accessibility might cause any delay, and plan your time accordingly.
If your wheelchair has accessories attached to it such as a pouch, lights, side covers, etc., it’s best to remove them before packing up to be transported - especially on air travel. This will eliminate any possibility of the parts being damaged due to negligence. It is not uncommon for cargo staff to handle items roughly, and it’s too much of a hassle to have to go through the process of writing up a complaint and then following up on it, so it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
If you are planning to transport your wheelchair by cargo, make sure you label your wheelchair. In fact, double or triple label if you can in case one of the labels are damaged or goes missing. Include necessary instructions when checking in your wheelchair, and cross-check the information on your tagged wheelchair to your travel details. The last thing you need is for your wheelchair to accidentally end up at a different location.
Riding on point number 4, try to ensure that your wheelchair is properly secured if folded, and add some padding if necessary. Use bubble wrap, or cardboard, or anything that is reusable, lightweight, and easy to manage.
Look up availability of wheelchair parts or repair at your destination location. In case of something breaking or malfunctioning on your wheelchair, you will at least not stress up trying to find a solution. If possible, get in touch with them and find out if they are able to service you. Not everyone will have the parts or service you need. What you definitely don’t need is more stress after a long haul.
When you reach the airport or station, try to request to board before the rest of the passengers. Some companies will allow this, and it puts less pressure on any wheelchair user to be able to board at their own time, without causing delay to other passengers. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you need any.
As a wheelchair user, you are entitled to certain rights when travelling. Study and understand them, and don’t hesitate to exercise your rights in a rightful and rational manner. Take into consideration that others may not know about such rights, so stay calm, and help them understand your situation.