A year ago I travelled for the first time by airplane since being in a wheelchair. The first time it was a short flight of 2 hours and I was alone. In the last few months I am glad to add two more flight experiences to my list. The difference I noticed is (now being on wheels) the detailed planning/preparation and the less baggage that I can carry when traveling solo.
A week ago I returned from my longest flight so far, being 9 hours on board on an airplane. I could not have done that alone the first time. I'm lucky my friend was with me to help me carry some of my luggage and using the bathroom on board since I did not want to use a stay-in cather. My wheelchair was put in the lugage section, so on board I can't use my own wheelchair. Being paralyzed I need a special chair to get on board, to be located on my seat. As a paralyzed person you do not get a special place on the plane, and cannot be placed near the exit because of safety reasons.
Since it was a last minute flight I could not do the proper preparations like measuring special flight socks for blood circulation. It's recommended because your feet will get swollen when sitting in the airplane. I got some bandages as a replacement, but end up not using them.
I went to see my doctor a few days before flying, I got some antibiotics, in case I would get a bladder infection during my trip and two anti thrombosis injection needles to insert myself before each flight. I bought a special lumbar support pillow for my back, since the first two flights I did, I've experienced real bad back pain because of the bad position sitting on the airplane seat.
I googled before my trip, looking for tips but I couldn't find much so as soon as I figured It out for myself I would write my experience down here for others who might find it helpful.
I only took what is necessary for me, as I'd like to travel as light as possible.
Every person with a spinal cord injury may do things differently, this is what I can tell you so far, with having a T5 injury and trying to be as independent as possible. I do every thing as natural as possible, I try to take as less medication as possible.
Check-List (preferably in your hand luggage)
- cather (I use 8 to 10 a day)
- cath bags (1 per night)
- gloves (1 box for 2 weeks)
- pain killers
- garbage bag (might come in handy)
- anti-bacterial tissues
- leg spreader with mirror (cather tool for women)
- pantyliners/diaper (just in case accidents happen)
- tools to repair your wheelchair
- anti-biotics (in case of an infection)
- anti-thrombosis injections
- support pillows (back, neck)
- medical passport
- extra cover for wheelchair cushion (in your suitcase)
- wear custom made medical support stockings
Everything else: Clothing, shoes, skincare , etc.
Some traveling agencies allow 15 kg extra baggage for your medical equipment for free.
- Make sure you leave on time. Check in at the desk 3 hours before boarding is normal for people who need some form of assistance. At the check in, ask for a seat near a disabled toilet on board (if it's possible). Not all airplanes have this.
- If possible choose a flight during the day, in my experience you have more time in the morning to prepare and are not too tired at night.
- 3 days before, the flight call the airport service center to ask for a special diet if necessary, for longer flights you might have to eat on board.
- Also ask for a confirmation for the on-board aisle chair to use the bathroom on board.
- When arriving, check in at the desk, sometimes you can choose to go to the gate yourself but you need to also report you have arrived at the assistance desk.
- Make sure your wheelchair is labelled. (if they ask, it might be good to know how much your wheelchair weighs)
- Going through security, there are special lanes, it's great to escape the regular lines.
Depending on the airport, they sometimes scan, you and the wheelchair or ask you to transfer to another chair to check your cushion, etc. If you use a stay-in cather with bag, maybe inform them before they search you.
- Go to the gate on time and inform you arrived. People who need assistance will board first. A special trained team will make sure you board safely. Your travel companion is allowed to board with you.
- In my case I go to the airplane in my own wheelchair and transfer to a special chair to board in front of the airplane door. I take the wheelchair cushion with me to sit on it in the airplane (better for your skin/decubitus prevention).
- During the flight try to lift your legs a couple of times, (if there is space) move them somehow or stretch.
- Do keep drinking during a flight, many people try not to drink so they don't have to use the bathroom but that's very bad for your liver. Drink bits of water to stay hydrated.
- When arriving at your destination, you will most likely will have to wait till all the other passengers left the airplane. Check your wheelchair, when transferring back to your own (always hoping it's not damaged).
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