Travelling with a wheelchair definitely comes with its challenges. We have flown both domestically and internationally with BJ’s manual wheelchair and on a whole we have had good experiences. We are often asked how to travel with a wheelchair and what airlines require passengers to do prior to check in. People have anxiety (justifiably so) around their wheelchair being damaged and what happens if it is. I’ve shared many tips on Facebook and bits and pieces here on the website but I thought it was time to put all the information in one place.
We are often asked why we travel with BJ’s manual chair rather than his power chair. As we are there for BJ when we travel we find that a manual chair gives us far greater flexibility. We know that what we do with his manual chair wouldn’t work for everyone and certainly for a larger or heavier adult. We are able to lift or bump his wheelchair up stairs if we get caught somewhere with a lift out.
BJ can do standing transfers so we have been able to hitch the manual chair on the back of golf buggies and we can manage a regular four wheel drive or station wagon hire car. BJ is also very comfortable in his manual chair and mixes it up between self-propelling and having us push him. He is quite happy to be pushed so the manual chair works well for travel.
I’ve mentioned before that one of my favourite features of BJ’s wheelchair is the storage. The backrest pocket has enough room for my wallet, keys, phone and a drink for BJ. It is much safer than having them in a bag which can be quickly whipped off by thieves. It also saves me carrying a handbag much of the time.
We attach a MLAK key to the zippered pocket so whoever has BJ has access to MLAK locked facilities.
On day trips and when we travel this partially hidden pocket under BJ’s seat is wonderful security for our valuables (probably not so much now that I’ve shared it with the world). It’s a great spot for passports and we can even fit an iPad in the pocket. We usually keep these in a hotel safe but when in between hotels the wheelchair is great. Just remember to remove everything before storing the wheelchair on a plane.
BACKPACK FOR DAY TRIPPING
For our travels we have to have a spacious backpack with compartments. Compartments make it easier to find things and this backpack comes with an insulated pocket for drinks. This backpack is heavy even when it is empty but its design really suits our travels.
A dish brush is probably the strangest thing we travel with in our luggage but it is invaluable when we do a dirt track and arrive back at our pristine hire car with muddy wheels. It swiftly cleans them off.
PREPARING YOUR WHEELCHAIR FOR AIR TRAVEL
This tip has come from some of our Facebook friends. Many of our readers have found that attaching a laminated information sheet to their chair with a photo of the wheelchair user, instructions on how to operate the chair and a little personal message like, “I’m looking forward to using my chair on holidays so thanks for doing your best to look after it.” Some people have also put this notice in two languages if there is a second language that is likely to be common to operators ie in the US you may add the Spanish translation of this notice.
PROTECT YOUR PAINT WORK
BJ’s pretty tough on his chair so we’ve never bothered protecting the paintwork on his chair but I can imagine with a new chair it would be frustrating to get your chair back with scratches. Some of our Facebook friends use bubble wrap and Bradflex insulation pipe. Cut the soft insulation pipe down the middle and use duct tape to secure it to the frame of the chair. Make sure you pack some extra bubble wrap for the return trip.
TAKE SOME SPARES
Hubby is pretty handy with repairs so we always travel with a basic repair kit. Even if you are not handy it is probably worth travelling with the correct replacements which would make it easier to get it repaired by someone else at your destination. We get spares from the wheelchair manufacturer and this includes, spare bearings, any of the bolts and fittings that are unique to the chair. We also travel with spanners and screw drivers that suit the fittings in order to be able to make repairs on the move.
CHECK YOUR CHAIR ON ARRIVAL
When you arrive at your destination take five minutes at the airport to check your wheelchair over for any damage. If there is damage you need to report it to the airline immediately. They have a desk near the baggage claim where lost luggage or damage can be reported. If the wheelchair damage does not affect you using the chair for your holiday the airline will record the damage and give you a reference number and information on how to claim when you return home. If the wheelchair is damaged and cannot be used the airline will arrange for a repair.
On a trip last year AJ noticed BJ’s wheelchair being loaded on the aircraft on its side. She took a photo out the window of the aircraft of this and it was helpful in claiming for the damage to the wheel guards. The damage to the wheel guards didn’t impact on being able to use the wheelchair so we organized the replacement guards on our return.
We know we have been lucky but in all our travels we have only had the one experience of damage to BJ’s chair. Don’t let fear of a damaged wheelchair keep you from giving travel a go. The rewards are too great.
- Take a repair kit.
- Take anything removable off the chair prior to handing the chair over to the airline ie cushions, armrests
- Check your wheelchair on arrival at your destination. Photograph any damage and report it immediately to the airline.
- When you get a new wheelchair made, consider having storage built in to the chair.
THE DOWNSIDE TO TRAVELLING WITH A MANUAL CHAIR
The hills and rough terrain are not easy with a manual wheelchair but for us that is the only downside. As you can see by the wicked smile on BJ’s face above, it doesn’t worry him too much!