Electric Wheelchair Travel on Airlines and Cruise Ships
By Michael Tsakok
Electric wheelchair traveling can be a hassle for the users but if they are well prepared, there is no place on earth that is out of bounds for wheelchair users.For most wheelchair users when traveling, accessibility is always an issue, be it boarding the plane or cruise to moving along the narrow aisle on board them. This article discusses about traveling on different modes of transport for wheelchair users going overseas and the things to look out for when traveling.
Electric wheelchair users have to make sure his wheelchair or handicap scooter is in good condition before leaving home. It is advisable to send your wheelchair for servicing especially before a long haul trip. Remind the service man to tighten any loose bolts and screws and also add lubricant to the axles of the wheels. You would want your wheelchair to be in tip top condition when traveling to prevent any problems that will wreck the enjoyment of the holiday. Time can be better sightseeing than finding a repair shop and waiting for repair.Write your name,contact number, return address and destination on tags that can be attached to your electric wheelchair and any removable parts. Some of the parts are expensive and difficult to replace so it is recommended that you take care of them too. Electric wheelchairs with pneumatic tires run a risk of having flat tires. It is therefore handy to bring along a repair kit that contains parts necessary to switch a flat tire. The repair kit can be a small palm sized box but enough to store the crucial parts that are small.
When traveling by cruise, boarding and disembarkation is the more troublesome parts of the journey. Basically, there are 3 ways a wheelchair user can disembark from the cruise ship: The first way applies to users who are able to walk down the gangway and the wheelchair will be handled separately by the ship assistants. For those who have problems walking, I suggest you stay on the wheelchair and allow the strong sailors to carry the wheelchair plus yourself down the gangway. The last method is by using what we call "creepy crawler". It is a mechanical system which the electric wheelchair mounts onto, converting it to a "walking" system. Electric wheelchair and scooter users have to take note that they are unable to employ the last two methods of disembarkation as the weight of the electric wheelchair is simply too heavy to be carried and also risk damaging the electronic components with too much vibrations. Ship assistants will advise you to transfer to a manual wheelchair and transferred off the ship separately. You can return to your electric wheelchair or scooter at the pier.
The most common form of transport is by air and the different airlines actually perform differently when wheelchair travelers are concerned. It takes extra efforts to provide satisfied service for wheelchair travelers and proper training should be rendered to the airline staffs. Back to the wheelchair users, call to confirm your flight details as they are subjected to change. Electric wheelchair users will spend a lot more time transferring between airport terminals if they arrive at the wrong one. You need to also inform in advance the airline that you will be traveling in a electric wheelchair, manual wheelchair or handicap scooter. Ask for additional assistance when you reach the airline counter.Electric wheelchair users have to request for "gate check" as it allows you to move directly onto the plane. The airline staff will assist you in placing the wheelchair at a corner after you transfer to the seat, usually by the aisle. You are reminded to remove the leg and seat cushions and carry along by your side as these loose components may go missing while in storage. If the wheelchair can be folded, use duct tapes to tie the wheelchair together, keeping it as compact as possible. This will prevent damage from rough airport handlers.
Other steps to take while traveling by used electric wheelchairs and scooters include the type of batteries to use. The best form of batteries to use for traveling are the gel cell and dry cell batteries. Refrain from using wet cell batteries as there is a possibility of leakage and airlines usually ban them from being taken on board.If your electric wheelchairs were to be stored in the goods compartment of the airplane, you must take precautions to prevent unwarranted use of your electric wheelchairs by the handlers. Set the electric wheelchair transmission to neutral gear such that it can be manually pushed to its storage location. Remove the battery connections between both chair and battery and use a duct tape on both ends. Never leave a open wire dangling. Keep the power cord by your side at all times. You also have to remove the joystick and keep beside you or if it is fixed to the electric wheelchair, loosen the joystick and point it downwards. This is to prevent damage to the joystick due to other weights being piled on top of it.
For electric wheelchair travelers who often have to move along the aisle of the transport vehicle i.e. plane or cruise, the electric wheelchairs have to be left behind as they are too wide for the narrow aisle. In these situations, the transport operators have to provide aisle chairs which are skinny enough to move down the aisle and bring the wheelchair user to his or her seat. In recent years, airlines have made provisions such as knock down arm rests among its seats on board flights. This helps to cater to the increasing number of savvy wheelchair travelers worldwide and airlines have also gained in their image as all encompassing enterprises with no discrimination.
As a last piece of advice for wheelchair travelers, do not assume the care of your electric wheelchairs to be the prerogative of the transport operators. You, as the owner, should take every steps to prepare for wheelchair travel and cooperate with the standard operating procedures of the operators as far as possible. Being considerate is the key here, it will also be the deciding factor whether the you will enjoy your holiday or completely spoil it. Pack up and enjoy electric wheelchair users out there!