Having suffered a SCI at age 16, Kissinger Deng knows the pitfalls involved in flying as a wheel chair user. A Paralympian, he flies often as the goal keeper for the Oslo Sledge Hockey team. Here he shares his tips for a hassle-free travel experience.
I travel a lot; with the hockey team and on holidays. A lot of people I speak with assume that traveling with a wheelchair is a stressful undertaking, but it really doesn’t have to be. With a lot of flying done, both alone and in company, I have accumulated quite a bit of experience. These trips weren’t only positive but enabled me to expand my knowledge of stress-free travelling :)
Before you travel
Most airlines require you to book your tickets 48 hours before departure. Yet it isn’t impossible to travel if you happen to be the spontaneous type – I’ve found that if I call the airline directly, something can be worked out even if there is less than 48 hours left before takeoff. While there is no guarantee that you’ll find a ticket, this is definitely worth a try!
Order your transport services as soon as you have your flight number and departure time secured. It is best to book a round trip, so you don’t have to queue upon your return.
In most cases, the airlines’ website will have information regarding wheelchair accessibility, and those who don’t should be called directly to make sure they can accommodate and prepare for your trip. Most I spoke to enquired about the dimensions and weight of my wheelchair. If you are going to need assistance at the airport, it’s essential you communicate this so they can prepare for your arrival.
If you have any type of medical equipment you’ll need to use under the duration of the flight, you may want obtain a medical certificate. Some items are harder to get through security but a medical certificate will make it easier to verify that the equipment is something you’ll be relying on during your flight. It is best to have the document in English.
At the airport and onboard the aircraft
Make sure you arrive at the airport in good time so you get your luggage checked in and the assistance you requested. I personally meet the assistant by the gate but it is not a problem to request help earlier on, should you need it.
On long-haul flights I need to move about to prevent pressure sores from forming. This is why I try to ask for an empty seat next to me, if possible. There’s usually empty seats on flights and it’s helpful to be placed next to them. Sometimes it is possible to see the seat plan already at the bag-drop but if not, it is best to talk to the flight attendant.
Do you have FreeWheel? Attach it to your wheelchair! This way you can save valuable space in your luggage. I always attach my FreeWheel to the wheelchair when I’m traveling. When I move over to the seat, I just place the FreeWheel on my lap, then stow it in the overhead bin.
I always take the wheelchair cushion with me to avoid pressure sores. On longer flights you may need to use the lavatory. Ask the flight attendant to provide a cabin chair – they’ll also help you to and from the toilet :)
If you don’t have empty seats secured, you can always ask once more as you board the plane – people with disabilities always board first, so you have plenty of time! This way you’ll also have a chance to chat further about any other needs you might need help with.
When I have empty seats available and am on a longer flight, I usually lie down because there’s always a lot of sitting involved with traveling. I highly recommend finding relief from this at the first given opportunity. I have also had good experiences chatting with those who end up sitting next to me; if I explain why I need to lie down, most will get up and find another seat. It never hurts to ask :)
One time, my wheelchair didn’t get delivered to allow me to de-board the plane, so it’s essential to get confirmation that your wheelchair is also onboard before take-off. The staff will also be able to inform the baggage handlers to deliver the wheelchair to the aircraft instead of the baggage belts – this has actually happened to me!
I hope my tips will help you on your next trip – remember, the only limitations are the ones within you :)
PS: if you have an extra ticket for your next trip, give me a call :)
Stay blessed <3
You can download the travel certificate for LoFric intermittent catheters by clicking the button below.