If you are a regular reader you will know how much I love to go on holiday and although William’s disabilities have made it more tricky, it has not stopped us from going. One thing I often hear from other families is that they are reluctant to travel because they are worried that their child’s wheelchair might end up getting damaged, or worst still lost and that one factor stops them from taking a much needed holiday. So I wanted to share my top tips to keep your wheelchair safe on a plane.
But before I get to those I think it is important to point out that while you may have read horror stories of wheelchairs getting damaged or lost, that really isn’t that common an occurrence, it just seems that way because no one writes stories about the time their wheelchair arrived in one piece at their destination!
It really isn’t that likely that your wheelchair will get lost or damaged on a plane but here are 7 ways you can help to reduce the risk even more…
Although we don’t dismantle Williams wheelchair anymore, we do make sure we prep the wheelchair ready for the journey to reduce the risk of breakages. The day before our flight we do a thorough check of the chair and tighten up all the nuts and bolts so that nothing is loose enough to fall off! We also make sure we know how to dismantle the chair if we absolutely have to as it’s not something we do very often.
We take off the straps, bumpers and any accessories at the gate and pop them into our hand baggage so they can’t get lost in the hold – I take my DRM Project SuperMum tote bag folded up in my handbag so I have something to put them in!
The airline will label the wheelchair at the check in gate along with your luggage, these labels are really important as they are used by the baggage handlers so they know which aircraft it needs to go on.
If your wheelchair dismantles into 2 (or more) pieces then you’ll need to ensure they label each part even if it hasn’t been dismantled yet. We do this even though we don’t usually dismantle Williams wheelchair. It’s safer because if there is a last minute panic and one of us takes it apart we know that both pieces are labelled! We have also had a case when there was space for the base in the cabin and the seat was put in the hold, we couldn’t have done that if the seat wasn’t labelled.
Do also ensure you add your own labels (see next tip) and include your flight number, destination airport, hotel name and your telephone number. That way if it does go missing, whoever finds it can contact you really easily and get it to you much quicker.
3. ID labels
I’ve mentioned these in my previous blog “Top Tips For Flying With A Disabled Child” but it’s worth mentioning again. 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.
Making it personal by adding a photo of the wheelchair user reminds the baggage handlers that the wheelchair is a vital piece of equipment for a real life person and hopefully that will make them think twice about how they handle it.
Inspired Sam, I created some signs for you to download & print for your trip, I’ve made them in pink and blue and they have full instructions on them for you!
4. Take your wheelchair to the plane door.
It’s unlikely you wouldn’t do this but just in case you are offered alternative options I thought it important to include this tip. If you take the wheelchair to the plane door it will be taken straight down to the hold and will not go to the plane via any baggage carousels. This means it is far less likely to be damaged or end up on the wrong plane!
When you get to the gate, before you leave the chair with the baggage handlers, take a photo of it so you can prove the condition it was in when you handed it over. Ideally take one from each side, one from the front and one from the back.
5. To dismantle or not?
If your wheelchair dismantles into separate pieces you will already have ensured both parts are labelled (see tip 2) but do think carefully as to whether you want to dismantle it. Is it more fragile when it is in two parts?
Is it more obvious to a baggage handler that it is an essential piece of equipment if it is in one part? Children’s wheelchairs definitely look more like a typical buggy if they’re folded so they may not be treated with such care as a wheelchair would.
We no longer take Williams wheelchair apart because we feel it is safer when it is fully assembled because it is easier to push and far harder to throw into the hold because it is so heavy! It is also makes life far easier if you don’t have to reassemble the wheelchair when you land.
6. Be prepared
If the worst does come to the worst be prepared so that your holiday isn’t completely ruined.
Most of your children probably use a bespoke chair for postural reasons so it won’t always be possible to replace it quickly but there are often options that could work in the short term if you are away for a week or so.
Before you fly, write down some ideas of options and get the contact details of the suppliers of those chairs so you can pass them to your airline or insurer if needs be. For example, William uses an adapted Caps chair which provides him with vital postural support, but if we really needed to, we could manage for a few weeks with something less supportive such as a special tomato seat. We also take a car seat with us for use on the plane so if the worst did happen we know he can sit in that and we could probably strap it to a wheelchair in an emergency situation. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
This is vital so do check that your travel insurance includes cover for your wheelchair, and buy extra cover if it doesn’t.
Airlines are liable for any damage to mobility equipment. However, the amount of compensation may be limited to around £1,300. If your equipment is damaged, the airport is responsible for providing a temporary alternative while yours is repaired or replaced, but this does not have to be on a like for like basis. (source: Civil Aviation Authority)so insurance is essential really.
When you are taking out insurance make sure you check whether it covers full replacement, repairs and an interim solution should you need to hire a temporary chair while you are away.
You’ve probably already seen GPS tags that you can attach to your belongings but have you considered attaching one to your wheelchair? We haven’t tried this yet but my Mum has one of the Tiletags on her keys and I know she has been able to find them using it several times so I think it could be a great idea for a wheelchair and it is certainly something I will be looking into – if you’ve tried one of these, please leave me a comment below to let me know what you used and how good it was.
I hope these tips will put your mind at ease enough to book a holiday, you know you deserve one!
This is a sponsored post supported by Fish Insurance and also contains affiliate links.
Massive thanks to Laura Rutherford of Brody, Me & GDD, for agreeing to allow Brody to be our cover star!