Just the thought of air travel as a quadriplegic may seem farfetched, but, with the right preparation, it can be stress-free and smoothly done.
We created an infographic to display the greatest takeaways from this information. See it below.
Choosing a Flight & Calling Ahead
Your first step should be to check flights. After deciding where you want to go and when, you should call ahead to make sure the airline is equipped to help you as needed. Airline websites each have the dimensions of the cargo areas in the special needs sections where you can see if your power chair will fit. The usual requests for transferring to the plane seats from your power chair or wheelchair include an Eagle hoist*, a harness, and two attendants who are prepared to assist with the transfer. You can usually fly either coach or first class for the same price; either is fine for most airlines but this is something you will need to confirm when calling ahead.
Assistance to Get into Your Seat
The Eagle 2 hoist is designed to lift passengers over the fixed armrests inside wide-bodied commercial airliners with 3 seats on each side. The hoists can have their length adjusted, depending on the seat’s pitch, which changes between business and first-class. Eagle 2 provides a convenient and safe method of plane seating as a quadriplegic.
(Watch this brief video to see the Eagle hoist in action, so you can know ahead of time if you’ll be comfortable with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTPItEfxSeE)
Upon your arrival, flight attendants should be ready to assist you. They will help transfer you to either an Eagle hoist or a smaller wheelchair that fits in the aisles. Next, they will bring you to your seat where they will help transfer you by either the hoist or physical assistance, depending on what you arranged beforehand. The attendants will do this before anyone else boards the plane for maximum comfort. When the plane arrives at its destination, they will help you off the same way once everyone has gotten off the plane.
Special Considerations for Ventilators
If you are traveling with a ventilator, it must meet the specifications that the airline requires. If yours does not, they can provide one that does. To see if your ventilator will be approved for airline travel, you can call ahead and provide a detailed description of your ventilator.
The airline’s engineering crew will want to know the following about your ventilator:
- Model number
- Manufacturer name
- Manufacturer contact information
You should also be aware that cylindrical canisters of oxygen are typically not permitted onboard airlines due to their highly pressurized state. Instead, portable oxygen concentrators are allowed.
When you are seated with a ventilator, either yours or one provided, double-check that you can fit it can be fit properly under your seat. The ventilator must be kept there throughout the flight as if it were any other personal, un-stored carryon item. You might also be asked to turn off your ventilator when the plane is taking off or landing.
More Must-Know Air Travel Tips for Quadriplegics
- Travel in your hometown first:
Before you zip across the globe for the first time as a traveling quadriplegic, take a little vacation in your own hometown. Stay in a local hotel to gauge how comfortable you are being out of your house and potentially on your own.
- Replace your tires now:
In many places you travel, power chairs might not be the norm. As such, the paths you travel could be rocky and uneven. Before you depart, arrange to have your power chair tires replaced with a fresh set to minimize the chances of encountering any trouble due to unusual terrain.
- Shop for custom gear:
There are a lot of travel gear options made specifically for people with quadriplegia. If you aren’t finding something that will make your travels easier, browse around until you do. There are even companies that will completely customize your gear based on your unique needs.
- Think about bathroom breaks:
The most difficult part of air travel might be the need to use the restroom. On an airplane, the restroom is small and almost-always occupied. Think well ahead about how you are going to manage the need to relieve yourself, whether you use a leg bag, diaper, catheter, etc.
- Pack your carryon accordingly:
You can use your one allotted carryon bag to bring essentials and extras that you always need nearby, such as another oxygen concentrator. Don’t use it for items used for entertainment unless you are really sure you have the space for it.
- Keep all necessary batteries in your power chair:
Airlines tend to dislike loose batteries on their planes. As someone in a power chair, though, you have the right to keep any “non-spillable” batteries in your power chair while in-flight. The same is true of “spillable” batteries that can be stored or secured while in an upright position. Your rights regarding batteries during air travel are listed under Air Carrier Access Act Section 382.41 (g)(l)(i), just in case you need to get specific with anyone.
- Splurge on your hotel:
If it is in your budget, go for a better hotel with a recognized brand name. They typically have larger rooms with larger bathrooms, as well as all-around better ADA accommodations. Don’t assume, though. Always call to confirm if your room will be power chair accessible.
- Travel together:
Whenever you can, travel with a trusted caregiver, family member, or friend. Mobility issues are that much more manageable when you have someone else there to help.
- Identify local mobility shops:
You never know when your power chair or wheelchair might breakdown. When you arrive at your travel destination, one of the first things you should do is locate shops that can service your chair.
- Equip your travel partner:
If you are traveling with someone else, educate them about the basics of power chair maintenance and bring a small toolkit. They might be able to fix small issues, like a wobbly wheel, without needing to head to a shop for costly repairs.
- Stay positive:
The key to enjoying traveling for anyone, quadriplegic or otherwise, is keeping a positive attitude. Traveling can be frustrating and frightening, especially if your destination is entirely new to you. Embrace it all with a sense of adventure and you’ll find traveling can be one of life’s best treats!
Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C. Wish You the Best
From all of us at Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C., we wish you nothing but happy, safe travels. As a law firm that has helped secure compensation for people living with quadriplegia caused by an accident, we know it can be difficult to get around and travel across state and international borders. If you are coming to the Philadelphia area, though, you might want to take a moment to browse this pamphlet from the Philadelphia International Airport, which shares even more travel tips and information about your ADA rights in the city.