It's been a few weeks now since I've been back from holiday and I still have a few more posts to share about it to continue the travel series. I know, it's never ending! This time I managed to document my journey to share some of my travel tips put into action and so that you get a clearer idea of what to expect should you decide to travel yourself.
Luckily pain levels etc were on my side and the days of complete rest before travelling helped me have the energy I needed.
Above is a glimpse of my travel outfit. I wrote a separate post on that which you can read here.
At the airport
If you have booked assistance from the drop off area which is useful for passengers travelling alone or those that need extra help with luggage and equipment there should be someone there to meet you. They should be wearing a fluorescent bib. If you have not requested help from the drop off point then once you get inside the airport locate the special assistance desk and check in there first. If you are travelling alone a member of the special assistance team will meet you there (if they haven't at drop off). If you have requested a wheelchair to help you through the airport you can collect that there too (again unless you got one at the drop off point). They will then direct you to the check in desk for your flight.
Often there will be a separate queue for special assistance users or if not ask at the special assistance desk and they will usually tell you to go to the front of the queue. Cue lots of looks from those in the queue. At check in if you have your own wheelchair then you will need to get it tagged for identification purposes because it will go into the planes hold once you are on the plane. They will also tell you where and what time to meet a member of the special assistance team to board the plane. Unless you have booked assistance through the airport; in which case they will take you to the gate. The may also ask if you would like to get a coffee or drink to have while you are waiting.
Being in a wheelchair going through airport security is very different. Firstly as normal you will need to put all your hand luggage, jacket and hat etc into a tray to go through the x ray scanner. Take out your bag of liquids and put that separate. If you have any allen keys for your wheelchair with you like I do in a little pocket at the back of my chair then take them out and place them into the tray as well. Do show the security guard and explain so that they can pass it on to the person on the scanner.
A member of staff will then take you to the side as you cannot go through the scanner, a female for female passengers and male for male passengers. They will perform a quick search of you and the chair. They should also ask if you are in any pain so not to hurt you. A swab of your shoes will also be taken. It's important that no other member of your party touches you or the chair until you have been given clearance by staff.
At the specified time, a member of the special assistance team will meet you and help check you in with a member of the gate staff. Once they have been given clearance they will take you out to either the ambilift or the plane's steps depending on what you have booked.
The top photo is of the ambilift that helps wheelchair users and those who cannot climb stairs to embark the plane. It's like a van with two lifts either side. One to lift you up the inside of the lift, where there are seats for others you are travelling with or those without their own wheelchairs.
The 'van' then drives to the plane, generally to the back on the opposite side to where the other passengers are boarding and parks so that the front platform is level with the plane door. The floor of the van then rises level with the platform. I took the photo above as we were going up. It can be a little wobbly so hold onto the bar.
Once you are level with the plane and the plane door is open, you have the option, depending on your disability or symptoms on that day whether to walk to your seat or transfer into an aisle wheelchair or evac chair like the one shown in the photo above. I asked to use the chair as we were near the front of the plane and my legs didn't feel strong enough. Also as other passengers are boarding you can often not get directly to your seat. Having someone to help you to your seat makes people take notice. You get strapped into them.Those chairs are not very big or very comfy though and you will get tipped backwards to get over the lip of the plane door. Nor is it great when someone drops a suitcase on your feet! The evac chair is quite good though as it doesn't have any sides allowing for easier transfer into your seat.
Now speaking of seats. Different airlines have different policies. Some have dedicated assistance rows. You can find out this information from your airline. Once on board make yourself as comfortable as possible and try to take small power naps or meditation sessions often to relax and recharge. I was lucky to be sat with my parents so that I could put my legs up across their laps (I was sat by the window.) If your legs begin to ache try and elevate them as much as you can.
Above is a photo of part of the menu for Ryanair, which I took to give you an idea of what is available and prices. As you can see the prices are quite dear so be prepared or take food on board with you.
Once you land your wheelchair will be taken out of the hold and will be put by the steps of the plane and then taken to the ambilift if it is being used. If you do not have your own chair but have requested one then that will also be waiting. I recommend waiting until last to disembark so that you can do so in your own time. If you are using the lift and evac chair then you will do so anyhow.
The above photo shows a bit more of how the ambilift works (and a very nice Greek man, I think you have to pay extra for him.) Once you are in the lift if your chair is in there you can transfer into that if not it will be bought to you once the lift is lowered. The van will then either drive closer to the arrival building or you will be taken on foot (obviously not yours.)
When it comes to transfers I've never had an issue with being able to put my wheelchair into the hold of the coach. The biggest issue is whether you can manage the steps of the coach. They can be quite steep. Again this is were a walking stick comes in handy. I've also often had people move from the front seats so that I could have them. A private taxi could also be a good idea. Only pay extra if you need a specialist vehicle and after checking policies etc. I know some holiday companies can arrange specialist transportation if you are on a package holiday.
Then all you have to do is relax and enjoy and take it easy. It will take a while to get over the travelling so make sure you rest.
For a few more travelling tips take a look at my other posts.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it's took away some of the mystery of travelling as a disabled or poorly person. I have a few more posts on the travel theme to come, including my favourite products and some more interviews with other spoonies.