In 2016 we embarked on what some may say was a very ambitious adventure of our 1st family holiday. Reason being we aren't your average family of 4 with just budgeting and small children to contend with (both of which are hard enough!) Put in the fact I, their Mother am a full-time wheelchair user and a full-time powerchair user at that and our holiday just got a lot more complicated and sadly, a lot more expensive...
Upcoming in this series focusing around our family holiday to Costa Almeria;
Comparing Budget and Disabled Holiday Websites
In this post I'm going to focus on air travel when you're a wheelchair user AND you've got children to contend with. That sentence probably has you thinking, gosh that'd be total madness! It's hard enough if you're just a wheelchair user. The worry of getting on the plane, if Special Assistance has communicated with the relevent people appropriately, the anxiety over if your wheelchair will get damaged by baggage handlers etc. To then add children into the mix and all their needs. Getting them through security without meltdowns, making sure you have appropriately sized drinks and snacks that won't be confiscated going through customs, if you're travelling with an infant you've got to consider taking frozen breast milk in an insulated travel bag or bring formula, activities to keep them occupied on the flight etc etc.
It is ALOT, but its totally DO-ABLE!!!
I've compiled a list of things we did that helped us getting my powerchair AND the littles safely and as stress-free as possible through the airport and also how we did on the flight OR what we wish we would of done!
When you're thinking of booking Special Assistance for your flights, many people who are wheelchair users automatically are just concerned with making sure they've got permission to take their own wheelchair right to the gate and if you need assistance transferring onto the aisle wheelchair to get to your seats. Whilst these two things are TOP priority, you may not know that Special Assistance can help with SO much more!
Here's some additional things to ask Special Assistance for when flying as a wheelchair user with children;
- - Ask for help with luggage (that will take such a load off 😉)
- - Ask at check-in to take a small child's buggy right to the gate also
- - Ask if your airport has an Eagle Passenger Lift (essentially an aircraft friendly hoist) to get you to your seat if you cannot self-transfer. It's more dignified and it means more Special Assistance staff will be there to help.
- - Don't hesitate to ask staff to push your childs buggy, hold the baby or small child's hand while other staff are getting you on the plane.
Through the Airport
Getting through the airport with a cart full of suitcases, children and a wheelchair user is very daunting! Even without these extra stress factors "average" families get stressed out trying to find the right desks etc.
Here's some tips to make navigating the airport and security more manageable;
- - Make sure all your boarding passes, passports and important documents and money are in an easily accessible pocket of your main carry on bag.
- Make sure your pre-written Attention BAGGAGE HANDLERS notice is securely fastened with a zip-tie to a non-removerable part of the wheelchair and EXPLAIN the need for this note when checking in the wheelchair.
I plan to do a future blog on the ATTENTION notice that makes often heavy-handed baggage handlers aware of how fragile powerchairs especially can be, serving as a reminder that that wheelchair IS YOUR LEGS! Therefore hopefully resulting in them taking a bit more care when hauling it on the plane...
- - Take small children to the toilet or to be changed BEFORE check-in because you can guarantee you'll get halfway through security and they'll suddenly be desperate...
- Load as many carry on bags as safely possible onto the back of the wheelchair. That way your hands are free to move about, deal with the kids and exchange things over the desks
- - ALWAYS check-in at the Special Assistance desk prior to going to your airlines main desk. More often than not a member of staff will come and lead you to where you're meant to be and help with luggage etc.
- - Buy travel bottles from Poundland and put your essentials in them. That way you know they're the right size and don't get delayed through customs having liquid items confiscated... Like we did with deodorant and suncream 🤦🏻♀️
- - Consider baby-wearing through the airport and even on the flight itself if possible (this will help baby stay calm)
- - If travelling with a baby, make sure you've got a bottle or milk ready (if formula feeding) before you join the security check queue as it's such a lengthy process. Be prepared to taste the formula or breast milk in front of an officer as a safety precaution!
- - Put small child on your lap while wheeling through security and possibly give them an electronic to keep them from swinging on the rope barriers and possible boredom meltdowns. Predicting + prevention is always key 👍
- If you're travelling with a vent (BiPAP/CPAP) make sure you've got a letter from your Ventilation team stating it MUST go as carry on FREE of charge. PLUS a 'Fit to Fly' document just incase. Make sure customs are gentle with any machines, often they just toss it about THEN ask what it is!
Actually on the Aircraft
You can start to relax a bit more. The hardest parts are over and once the wheelchair user has been seated appropriately the main focus can be keeping the kids entertained and comfort.
- - Ask stewards for extra pillows for comfort or to prop you up if you struggle to sit on a standard seat. Consider buying a travel neck pillow prior to travel.
- - When the seat belt sign is OFF use one of your carry on bags as a foot rest because dangling legs for even short haul flights can be painful and heighten the risk for blood clots
- - Keep moving around as much as you physically can or have your able-bodied travel companion re-position your legs etc every so often to help with aches, pains and circulation
- - Allocate a travel activity bag to each child so there's no fighting or need to share if siblings are not sitting directly next to one another
- - Have some lollies for the kids to suck for take-off or landing or a bottle for baby
- - Query with a steward that they know you need your wheelchair and/or child's buggy brought straight to the gate upon landing.
Arriving At Your Destination
You can feel the instant scorcher of actual Real sunshine as you and your troop descend the plane into paradise. Everything suddenly seems 100% better but don't get ahead of yourself yet. You maybe on the final stretch but taking your eye off the ball at this point can be just as detrimental.
- - Make sure all carry on bags are re-packed and all toys, bottles, bits and bobs are found or dare risk a holiday full of tantrums over Mr Bunny who got left on the airplane!
- - Keep communication open with the stewards while the aircraft is emptying so they don't forget you're waiting to be helped off the plane by Special Assistance. Stay calm and don't panic if they take a while to bring your wheelchair to the gate.
- - Allow Special Assistance to guide you right to baggage claim and don't feel its too much to ask if they help you locate your cases on the convayer belts. (Buying and attaching patterned belts or tags for your suitcases does really help speed up this process...)
- - Have small children who are grumpy from the flight ride on the wheelchair users lap belted up. Consider bringing reigns for toddlers for extra peace of mind!
All in all we had a very straightforward experience flying with me as a wheelchair user plus the 2 littles. If there's one thing I regret it'd be NOT using Special Assistance to their full potential. But we live and learn!
Hopefully some of these things will help other families travelling with additional needs. If you've got some tips and tricks of your own why not share them in the comments below 👇
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