Welcome to part 2 of this blog series about air travel with a disabled child. If you missed part 1 you can catch up here
I love holidays and it is really important to me that my son gets the opportunities to travel that he would have if he wasn’t 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!
So here are my next tips for flying with a disabled child…
Foods / Liquid Feeds
The usual limits on carrying liquids in your hand luggage don’t apply to essential pureed foods & prescribed liquid feeds and you are usually allowed to carry these with you. However, if your liquid feeds are not individually labelled with a prescription label then you will need to carry a letter from your GP, Dietitian or Paediatrician stating the reason you are carrying these with you in your hand luggage.
Find out about carrying medications in your hand luggage in part one
William only eats pureed foods so we carry these with us as most airlines can’t guarantee to provide something suitable for him. We have had several times where we have been asked to open these at security to taste them, so we have now started carrying some spare plastic pots with us as well as empty sandwich bags so we can reseal them if we are asked to open them rather than waste a whole yogurt or meal.
We were advised in the past that we needed a letter from our GP stating why we were carrying pureed foods, so far no one has ever asked to see it but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you are taking lots of liquid feeds with you to last a whole week (or longer) your airline will usually allow you to take an extra piece of luggage free of charge for this, and for continence pads etc, so do ask them if this is possible to ensure it is on your booking information. Some feed suppliers will deliver your liquid feeds to your hotel when you are on holiday to save you from taking it as luggage so it is worth contacting your supplier to see if this is a service they offer.
Wheelchairs / Buggies
When you are flying with a disabled child it can be scary trusting an airline to look after their wheelchair, especially if you’ve heard horror stories in the news. But please remember that for the handful of horror stories which make the press there are hundreds of other wheelchair users flying every day who don’t have any issues, and there are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of your wheelchair getting lost or damaged.
If anyone in your party is reliant on a wheelchair or a buggy you will be able to use this right up to the aircraft doors where you will leave it for the baggage handlers to place in the hold. If your wheelchair is in two pieces you will be required to take it apart so, ensure that both pieces get labelled when you check in. If your wheelchair or buggy has any loose parts which may get lost or damaged in transit, I’d recommend you remove them and stow them in your hand luggage or suitcase.
We always remove the arm bumpers, basket and hood from Williams wheelchair and keep these in our suitcase as we can manage without them for the few hours we are at the airport. My husband always does a quick check of any screws or bolts the day before we fly to make sure there’s nothing loose which might come undone, or fall out, in transit.
Sam from Don’t Pass The Buck created some fantastic signs which she attaches to the back of her son’s wheelchair to remind baggage handlers how important it is in the hope they will treat it with care. Adding a photo of the wheelchair user helps remind the baggage handlers that it is vital for the owner.
Inspired Sam, I have created some signs which you can download to print for your trip. Download your printable signs by clicking here.
As a precaution, you could take a photograph of the wheelchair ,or any other expensive equipment being stored in the hold, before the flight just in case there is any damage which you need to claim on insurance.
Read my tips to keep your wheelchair safe on a flight.
Of course, flying with any child is always stressful when it comes to keeping them happy and entertained, add a disability into the mix and expect the stress levels to increase dramatically!
But here are a few tips which I find make a flight less stressful for us:
Snacks – I always bring snacks for me and my husband because we tend to travel long haul and this can sometimes mean that we are awake for the whole flight if William is not having a nap. 10 hours awake on a long haul flight can be hungry work if you miss your lunch because you are busy feeding your child, although you may find the cabin crew can save your meal until later if you ask them nicely!
Drinks – we usually stock up on drinks once we are air side so we have a couple of bottles of water to hand as we have learnt through experience that when you are boarding first, you have the longest wait for a drink!
iPad – We always download some programmes William might like to watch as the in-flight entertainment screens are too small for him to see at a distance, don’t forget to pack some headphones too!
Battery – because I’ve got the iPad, I also bring a battery charging pack so we don’t need to worry about running out of juice although some aircraft have charging facilities available now.
Baby wipes – this is obvious!
Ear defenders. We don’t personally use these but I know many people swear by them in flight for their children especially as the noises you hear on a plane can be very strange if you are not used to them.
Changing mat – Changing Williams nappy on an aircraft is extremely difficult and we usually have to do this on the floor in the galley which is less than ideal. But we make the most of it and we take along a changing mat to use on the floor. My changing mat was made by sewing a shower curtain, read ,my simple tutorial to make your own.
This is one of the main things that put people off flying, and yes, it is a nightmare but even on a 10 hour flight we probably only have to face this issue 3-4 times and the holiday we get out of that is worth all the stress of a few changing battles.
Plastic bags – Take some resealable plastic bags with you! This is a very strange tip I know but I take a handful of these in Williams bag every time I fly! We use them to store dirty bibs after meals, keep foods sealed if he hasn’t finished them or if security have asked us to open and taste them when we go through. We always take our own spoons for William as plastic spoons are no good for him, so we seal the dirty ones in a bag so they don’t get mixed up with the clean ones.
Something we do to reduce stress when we travel is to use a valet parking service. This way we can drive straight to the drop off point and unload Williams wheelchairs and all our suitcases without the added stress of finding a parking space and having to use a bus.
When you are in resort you may choose to use public transport, taxis, transfer services or hire a car and whichever option you go for it is important to make sure that you know your needs will be catered for.
We tend to avoid group transfer services as it is very difficult to manage a bunch of suitcases plus a wheelchair and get William onto the coach and settled into his car seat without becoming stressed, and for a short journey it’s just not worth it. Having worked as an overseas holiday rep for many years I try to avoid any situation which involves an impatient Spanish bus driver!
Instead, we tend to opt for either a private transfer or car hire when we travel which at the moment is fine as we can still lift William. But I expect in a few years time when we need to hire a WAV we may be forced to change where we holiday.
One top tip for you if you are planning to hire a car would be to sign up to the car rentals executive club, or gold card scheme. This is a brilliant way of bypassing the queues, we have relied on this in the past when William would have become very upset while queuing to collect a hire car – we’ve been able to show the card and go to the front of the line!
I really hope these tips has helped to convince you that air travel isn’t impossible and with some careful planning and a few tweaks to how you travelled pre-kids it is actually very do-able! If you still need more convincing, read part three for more advice and ideas.