With holiday travel plans fast approaching, it’s important to remember all the tips and tricks that make getting from one place to another easier and safer for those who use a wheelchair. Whether you drive a motorized wheelchair or require assistance with manual chair, don’t miss these important travel reminders:
Book transportation ahead of time
If you are staying a hotel on your trip, book as much transportation ahead of time so that you are not stuck waiting for potentially hours for a wheelchair-accessible cab or rideshare. Many cities and hotel chains offer some transportation services which can accommodate mobility-challenged guests as well so plan ahead and set pre-planned pick-up times based on your existing travel itinerary.
Being on the go in your wheelchair can make it hard to keep track and hold onto personal belongs – phone, water bottle, keys, camera, you name it. Use helpful accessories like bags for wheelchairs and pockets which securely fasten to your chair and allow you to discreetly stow the belongings you need when you head out on outings, to dinner, etc.
Call to book your lodging
Snagging a great deal for a last-minute hotel might seem like a break for your wallet, but you can never trust that wheelchair accommodations will be consistent from one hotel to the next and you could likely end up with a room that doesn’t sufficiently meet your needs. Calling ahead to your lodging will allow you to confirm what accessibility features are available for your room – wider doorways, roll-in showers, and safety rails – and let you make requests, i.e. for a first-floor room.
Most airlines will let you check your wheelchair for free, however, you may want to go a step further in ensuring all the chair components make it to your destination in one piece. Remove wheels, headrests, pillows, joysticks, etc. and carry them onto the plane yourself in a bag you can stow overhead, or check them inside a suitcase. You can even use the cushion you sit on in your wheelchair on the plane for better comfort.
Ask for bulkhead seating on a plane
You know that spacious front row at the start of the economy seating section behind first class? Those are the bulkhead seats, and if you call the airline to explain you use a wheelchair and would like to sit there, they may reserve them for you at no extra cost. Not only does this make getting on and off the plane easier, but you will enjoy extra space and comfort on your flight (and be closer to the restrooms should you need to use one). Airlines should offer other assistance for you as well so contact TSA or your airline specifically to find out how to make your entire airport and flying experience smoother.
Check with local repair shops
Nothing is worse than traveling on a dream holiday vacation and the charger for your motorized wheelchair goes out. Or you lose a nut on your manual wheelchair and the armrests won’t work. You may want to plan ahead by finding out what wheelchair shops are local to your travel destination and could be helpful in an emergency situation like those.
Pack smart on the road
If you’re taking a road trip instead of flying, be smart about how and where you pack your wheelchair in the car. You may need to get out of the car and use your wheelchair regularly to pop into a business to use the restroom or to stop and eat with your travel companion. Make sure to pack your wheelchair last or in a way that it does not have luggage piled on top of it or it may become jammed and unable to be freed without completely unloading the car.
In addition to those smart best practices above, wheelchair users should remember to pack for travel emergencies like inclement weather. Being stuck in the rain in your motorized wheelchair can leave you and your equipment susceptible to injury or damage. Carry a rain poncho, umbrella, and joystick cover in your wheelchair bag to be prepared just in case!