Air travel with the electric wheelchair
When traveling by plane, there are a few points to consider when planning your trip:
For people who, like me, used to plan and book trips without a travel agency, I always recommend booking through a travel agency in the new situation. This way you have a contact person if something should go wrong along the way. The chance that all service providers meet the requirements for transportation of the electric wheelchair is better ensured. Should something still not fit, you have the travel agency in the background, which solves the necessary circumstances in one way or another (organizational or financial).
If possible, you should book the first row of seats after the toilets, as these offer a lot of legroom. This additional space is extremely valuable because the supportive people can offer significantly better and more pleasant assistance in all situations, especially when transferring or going to the toilet.
Rows of seats with a wall at the back should be avoided, as their backrests often have limited recoil.
In my opinion, the seat in the aisle is the best, as it allows the easiest transfer and, in addition, the legs can be stretched at least temporarily.
If you have special requirements for food, at least the well-known airlines have a small selection of options to choose from. These can be associated with an additional charge. These options can be selected after booking the flight on the airline's website or this can be clarified with the travel agent when booking.
Prior to travel
A good preparation for this is recommended:
- How and where is the motor decoupled so that the wheelchair can be pushed by hand?
- How and where are the batteries disconnected and the circuit interrupted?
- Have I requested / received an IATA certificate (certificate for flight safety) from the manufacturer for my electric wheelchair? Without this, the necessary proof of
- safety can become a nightmare.
This information must be shown to the airport staff so that the staff can load the electric wheelchair correctly in compliance with the safety regulations
The IATA certificate is usually requested from the airline / travel agency when the flight is booked or shortly after.
A data sheet with the most important information about the wheelchairs can be helpful for the travel agency in planning.
The airlines have a specific form, if assistance is required: Special Assistance Form SAF in accordance with IATA guidelines.
It can be helpful for the travel agency, if this form is available and filled out. If medical devices such as oxygen etc. are required during the flight, this form is mandatory. In this case, the doctor must confirm fitness to travel on the form. Since this certainly takes a little time, you should contact the doctor early on.
The form can usually be found on the airlines' website if you search for “Special Assistance”. In this way you can also find airline-specific information about traveling with a wheelchair.
2 wheelchairs can be transported free of charge per person in a wheelchair, 1x electric and 1x manual.
In order to save space and weight in my luggage, I have attached the charger for the electric wheelchair and spare wheels (the small ones) from the hand wheelchair to the electric wheelchair in a robust bag.
Since the staff is not always very careful with the wheelchair when loading and unloading, I would consider the following points:
- Fold in the headrest as far as possible
- Remove all the control elements (buttons, display, etc.) and pack or fold them in and cover them in a way that they have a minimum of protection against impacts.
- I would wrap the control unit with the joystick in a bag and tie it tightly. On my first flight, the joystick attachment was missing after landing - although you get a good
- hand training without an attachment, but I do not really recommend it. Another option would be to take a spare with you.
- The control for the head control, which is attached to the side in a small pocket, I would switch to the seat side or protect it very well against impacts.
- In the attached bag, I would only stow the charger and the operating instructions for the flight, possibly spare parts such as spare wheels for the hand wheelchair (theft).
- On the hand wheelchair, I put a clear label on the inside of both armrests: “Private Property of Dennis Schneider”. I've had this since my first voyage, as the staff had
- put my hand wheelchair in their own warehouse.
- I would take everything out of the back pocket of the hand wheelchair for the trip, as these things get "lost" in one way or another during the entire journey.
At the airport
You should definitely allow an additional 30 minutes for check-in with the electric wheelchair.
The power wheelchair is checked in at check-in. There are special counters for this in a few airports. For example at Kloten Airport (Switzerland), in the “Check-in 1” terminal, opposite the Business / First counter.
A wheelchair is often offered by the airport for the time up to boarding so that the private hand wheelchair can also be loaded straight away. I strongly advise against it! Comfort is usually poor, and in certain countries catastrophic for our clinical picture.
The following two questions are usually asked at check-in and if not, you should address them yourself:
1. Do you need help getting on the plane?
There is a special wheelchair (a hand truck for people) that is narrow enough to use the aisle on the plane. If you can no longer walk yourself, this is needed. You sit on it, are strapped down and then brought to the square. Depending on your needs, one or two people support you or even lift you into the seat. How smoothly this transfer takes place varies greatly. That is why I recommend that you or a companion give inputs on how and where can / should be held. Possibly the accompanying person can help because, according to my previous experience, the staff has little or no knowledge of how a person is transferred. Without instructions, this can sometimes be very painful, as I once had to experience myself.
2. Do I need help to get to the gate?
This is part of the free service provided by an airport.
Advantage: The wheelchair can be pushed by an airport employee, you can get through security more directly and quickly and you will be accompanied directly to the correct gate.
Disadvantage: Depending on the airport, you will be taken directly to the gate regardless of the flight time or you will be brought to a waiting area for people in need to be picked up there at a given time (you will be informed). So far, these waiting areas have all had the character and ambience of a bus stop - so not that great. This waiting area can be left. However, it is recommended to be there about 30 minutes before the pick-up time. In addition, I recommend informing the employees responsible there and, if necessary, agreeing a return time.
If you have requested assistance when booking / checking in, you will be picked up and accompanied on all flights.
On longer flights, you should go to the toilet or use a urine bag before boarding. If you have to go to the toilet on the flight, you need your own legs. The flight crew is not allowed to offer assistance with the toilet, assistance with eating or with the administration of medication or syringes.
When boarding, wheelchair users have right of way, i.e. you board the plane at the same time as 1st class and families with children, before the general passengers. Therefore, it is better to be ready a little before the official boarding time in order not to miss this advantage. Usually you will be picked up and accompanied here by an airport employee, for which you have agreed a certain time anyway.
When you arrive at your destination, wheelchair users are the last to leave the aircraft. A hand wheelchair is available when you leave the aircraft - ideally your own. If it is not your own hand wheelchair, you can find it at the baggage claim. The power wheelchair is usually at the baggage claim for sports baggage (bulky baggage). In Asia, however, I have already seen that the electric wheelchair was actually brought over the baggage carousel or had to be searched for. The airport employee accompanying you can be of great help in this regard.
If you are only traveling with one accompanying person, it can be a challenge to easily bring your luggage including the additional hand wheelchair through the airport. Depending on the country, it can be worthwhile to compare the prices of a pure taxi service with the costs of a personal transport service. The personal transport service will meet you at the first possible occasion in order to provide support at the earliest possible time. At the destination too, this transport service offers significantly more support with luggage than a pure taxi service.