Mention travelling to me and it gives me high anxiety. The serious pant changing type of jitters. I’ve travelled and have had some bad things happen to me. So I’m safe to assume the worst. The bad things will happen again and again. Let me share some here.
My wheelchair was squashed by a US airline on holiday. That left me having to find a loaner chair, pay $800 for new wheels and then fight them for a refund over the next three months.
I was left waiting on a plane for over an hour at midnight, and when the assistance finally arrived they were a lot less than friendly. Even the pilot was shouting down his phone at someone that night.
While in my wheelchair wearing my prosthetic leg, a check in person once demanded that I show her I could walk or she would not check me in. So in front of a crowded check in hall I had to totter 20 steps like a drunk walking the line. Humiliation and anxiety.
I’ve been called a liar, been talked over like I’m stupid and been called Madame in a passive aggressive manor way too many times.
Looking back there is not much I could have done about these things myself.
Negligence, not my fault.
Bad planning, not my fault.
Let’s face it, the d***heads will always be d***heads, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that.
So I try and concentrate on the things I can do to help my journeys go more smoothly. (Mainly by leaving the planning to someone else!)
Here’s a few tips I can recommend if you have a trip coming up.
- Allow extra time. When you need help and you’re relying on other people, there’s extra opportunity for things to be delayed. Never be later than half an hour early.
- Book assistance when you book your ticket. This applies to aeroplanes and trains. I’ve never been on a coach in a wheelchair but I imagine it would be the same. Assistance on a train could be the ramp to get on and off, help with your luggage getting on and off, and also your forward journey. So they may help you to a taxi etc. Ask the train guard to tell your destination station you are coming so they can be ready with the ramp if needed. I’ve had to throw my chair off a few trains before when assistance hasn’t turned up. Other passengers are usually really helpful, but I’ve always avoided the creepy ones who want to carry me! I refuse to be carried. Only when drunk. Maybe then.
Assistance when flying usually means repeating yourself a lot. You can request assistance online, and you’ll be asked to tell them details about your wheelchair. Then when you turn up to check in they will usually (frustratingly) know nothing about you. So you say it all again and give them details of your wheelchair again. At this point please argue for a “return to aircraft” tag for your chair. If it has a battery this usually causes much confusion over whether it’s allowed on the plane, but don’t worry, as long as it’s lithium ion and can be removed, you’re golden. You can usually take your own wheelchair right up to the aircraft door. If it’s a manual chair though passenger assistance may try to take it off you and put you in one of theirs. The choice is yours. Assistance doesn’t have to be waiting to be pushed by them through security and to the gate. You can do security yourself if you want to in your chair and just meet them at the gate. Don’t have your choice made for you. So, then your chair will be put “safely” in the hold. At this point I always ask a member of the crew to make sure my chair is returned to the aircraft for me when we land. No harm in checking. It once happened where my manual chair ended up on the luggage carousel with all the suitcases. Fortunately there was no damage. They clearly don’t care that our “legs” have cost thousands of pounds and a wheelchair is very personal to us.
IMPORTANT If you do have damage to your chair during travel, take photos of it straight away and report the damage straight away. It may seem like a hassle, but you must do it as there will be time limits for claims to be made.
- Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. Advocate for yourself. Speak out if you feel the service you are getting is poor, or even good! Good feedback is just as important as telling them they’re pants.
I have heard lots of out-of-date language on my travels.
Wheelchair bound – no I’m not. Are you leg bound?
I know how you feel – do you really? I very much doubt that. I have shouted at several upright two-legged people for saying this. Just because you spent a month in a wheelchair when you sprained your ankle playing darts does not make us compadres.
Can she stand up? – ask me you idiot! Don’t ask someone else.
Does she know her PIN number? – ask me! I have one leg, that doesn’t mean I have half a brain.
Speak out when something happens to you. Tell the person what you need, what you were expecting and how you expect to be spoken to.
- Carry what you can’t live without in your bag. Pills, meds, spare pants, phone charger…whatever it is, keep it with you. Luggage does go missing, so imagine a day and night without something, and if the result looks unimaginable, bobs your uncle.
These are a few tips based on my experiences. You will have your own based on yours. Travelling can be a nightmare but I have had some very good trips too, let’s not forget that.
Wherever you go I wish you safe travels, and fun memories.