Welcome to part 4 of this blog series, sponsored by Sheraton Heathrow. If you missed previous parts I will link them at the bottom of this post.
I live for my holidays and it is really important to me that my family don’t miss out on foreign travel simply because my son is disabled. We travel a lot so I am hoping these tips will encourage other families like mine to take the plunge and book a holiday this year!
Here are some more tips to help you on your next trip…
Boarding the plane can be really stressful if you are rushing about with your bags, getting your child out of their wheelchair & folding it up, then carrying them or making sure they are safe in the Eagle Hoist etc… it’s all conducive to a stressful start to your holiday. But you can avoid that stress with some simple planning.
Get to the gate as early as you can, go as soon as it is on the information board so you have plenty of time to make yourself known to the desk staff.
When you get to the gate, go and talk to the gate staff immediately, even if they are turning other people away from the desk. Be firm and tell them exactly what help you need to board the plane. You may have already told your airline when booking your flight, or mentioned it when checking in but the information may not have been passed on correctly, so make sure you tell them again, they can’t help you unless they know exactly how you need to be assisted.
If you are travelling with other people, make sure everyone knows what their role is when you get to the plane door! It’s always my husbands ‘job’ to take our support seat and as many bags as he can onto the plane while I take William out of his wheelchair and settle him into the Eagle hoist (where there is one available). He then comes back and organises the wheelchair so it can be loaded onto the aircraft while I accompany William and get him settled into his seat.
It might sound a bit odd to be so planned but having travelled so many times now, I can assure you that your stress levels will be reduced by splitting the jobs!
Once on-board settle into your seat and have a well deserved drink while you wait for everyone else to board.
Seating supports on-board an aircraft
If your child requires additional support when seated there are a lot of options you can use in-flight.
I’d recommend you check out services like Tryb4uFly who can advise you on equipment and support seats available for use on-board an aircraft, they can also provide other very useful information related to travelling by air with a disability. We visited them a few years ago to try out the Meru Travel Chair which is a special support seat that has been approved for use on-board an aircraft.
You can hire this, and other supportive seating options, or you may find that your airline provides this for you which is why it is important to consider which airline you wish to fly with.
You can use other support seats on-board but you will need to check with your airline before assuming your seat will be accepted as each airline will have their own rules. We have a specialist car seat which we use on-board when we fly with Virgin Atlantic, this is possible because we have checked the dimensions with them prior to flying. And of course, taking this with us is handy as it means we have a car seat to use on holiday.
If you have a FireFly Go To Seat you may be able to use this on board, EasyJet and various other airlines already list this as an approved support seat. The options for larger children and adults are more limited unfortunately but perhaps with pressure on the air travel industry, they will allow wheelchair travel in the not too distant future.
This may vary between airlines but the standard rules are as shown below. I would always advise you to check with your airline before you fly, just in case.
Using the toilet / changing a pad on board
One thing people always ask me is “how do you take your disabled child to the toilet on a plane?”
Well, the short answer to that is ‘with difficulty’ but it is not completely impossible so don’t let this be the only reason you don’t venture abroad! Let me start by saying if you are on a short haul flight, maybe going to Spain or France, you might not even need to worry about this if your child is able to wear a nappy / pad and can manage for a couple of hours without being changed.
The real issue comes when you are on a long haul flight. But we are regulars on a long haul flight, as we travel to Miami every year, so I hope I can put your mind at ease a little.
Firstly, unless your child can sit in the on board aisle wheelchair, you will sadly have to carry them should they wish to use the toilet. Most planes now have a larger ‘accessible’ toilet on board. Unfortunately, larger does not mean large, and these toilets are still very small. We have managed to fit 2 adults and a child inside the ‘accessible’ toilet but it was a struggle and there was no room to move once the door was closed.
We overcame this by asking the cabin crew to draw the curtains and ensure no passengers came through so we could lay William on the floor (on a home made changing mat) to undress him. We then lifted him onto the toilet and left the door open to allow us some extra space. After he had used the toilet we could then lower him back onto the floor to clean and dress him.
William is getting heavier so we won’t be able to do this for much longer, but we do have a manual handling sling we could use to carry him if needed. This of course requires 2 carers so if you are travelling solo with your disabled child this is unlikely to be an option for you as the cabin crew are unlikely to be allowed to assist you with this.
Of course not everyone can lift their child / young person so this solution won’t work for all. However, one of my readers came up with a solution when travelling to Orlando last year by asking cabin crew for blankets and using them to create a privacy screen around their seats so they could change their son in his seat.
Neither of these options are ideal but if the only thing stopping you from taking a flight is the concern of how to deal with continence needs in flight then please be assured there are ways to manage. The cabin crew on board your flight are there to make sure you are comfortable and will do whatever they can to help you.
Of course, flying first class might be the ideal solution as the chair converts to a bed but let’s face it, carers allowance probably can’t stretch to covering the cost of that! If only changing places toilets were available on planes!