Accessible Air Travel: Boarding the Plane

You have checked in, braved security and now it’s time for the last step before you are on your way to your vacation destination: boarding the plane. If you are a wheelchair user, it’s not quite as simple as finding your seat. If this is your first trip post injury or illness, read on for a step by step description of the boarding process, as well as my tips to make it a smooth trip before the trip.

Bathroom break. Okay, so technically this isn’t part of the boarding process – but it is a crucial last step before you get on the plane. In most cases, I want to be sure to visit the bathroom as close to boarding time as possible, since once I am in my seat, I am not getting out of it until I reach my destination. This is a very important step for you to think about on the day you are flying, as you may need to limit your fluid intake until you arrive at your destination. There are not usually wheelchairs on the plane, nor are the bathrooms big enough for you and a wheelchair, so be prepared before you board.

Mark in the "straight back" chair.

Mark in the “straight back” chair.

Transferring to the “Straight Back.” Once it is time to board, the team will escort you down to the airplane. Since I can’t walk on to the plane, I wheel down the jet way to the bottom where a special wheelchair, often called a “straight back,” awaits me. With minimal assistance, I transfer on to it, and help with the safety straps. I fly quite often so have this routine down, and often have the straps on before the people even look up!

I then take my cushion and side guards off of my chair and take them on the plane with me. DO NOT leave anything on your chair that is not bolted down on the chair when it goes to be stored below, or you could be disappointed when you get your chair back. Things can move around while in flight and it is very easy for something like a side guard to come loose and get lost. I also fold the back down on my chair so to make it easy for them.

Getting to Your Seat. Once all of this is done, the agents push the special chair on to the plane, get me to my seat, and I transfer over to it. If you need assistance, just ask –  they will happily lift you in to your seat. At this point, it is time to put my seat belt on, get comfortable, and relax, since I will be in my seat until the plane lands. On most flights, I choose to sit on my cushion to protect my skin. I will also be sure to do weight shifts while in the air, just like I would if I were sitting in my chair.

And that’s all there is to it! Thanks so much for joining us this week as we addressed common issues people with disabilities face while flying. We hope you learned a thing or two, and we would love to hear your tips as well. Share your advice and recommendations in the comment section below. Bon voyage!

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