If you are the parent of a child who needs a wheelchair then I expect you, like me, dread the thought of a travelling on a plane with them. But if we want to enjoy all the wonderful things a holiday abroad brings then we are usually willing to make some concessions and put up with the awkward flight for a few hours.
But I always feel like we are on borrowed time, and each holiday could be our last as each flight gets more and more awkward as William gets bigger and bigger. Flying with him as an adult will be impossible.
Unless things change within the aviation industry.
Well, that could be about to happen.
This week sees the inaugural “wheelchair in the cabin” symposium hosted by Flying Disabled and Virgin Atlantic.
There is a desire for people across the disabled community to travel. But those who simply cannot leave their wheelchair, find this process of travel undignified, unsafe and an arduous task.
Travel using a wheelchair over land and sea has adapted over the years. We have seen wheelchair spaces provided on busses and trains. Wheelchair adapted vehicles are a common sight on our roads and travel for wheelchair users is constantly evolving.
Travelling in an aircraft when you have a disability however, has not been examined. The aviation industry has not been directed to look into, let alone make, such changes for disabled passengers.
Whilst there has been a history of minor recommendations in this area, self-regulation by airlines means that little or nothing has been done. It has never been a high priority for them to adapt the way disabled people travel on an aircraft. Instead assistance has been provided to get people out of their wheelchairs before getting into the cabin.
Disabled people have been expected to make their own adjustments by bringing their own seating supports suitable for the aircraft, or ‘make do’ with pillows or blankets to provide vital support.
As our population lives longer and more people than ever want to travel, the need for airlines to make provision inside the cabin for these varying requirements must be brought to the forefront of thinking.
Chris Wood has been heading a campaign to bring air travel in line with other forms of travel and aims to get wheelchairs in the cabin.
Imagine how much easier it would be if, instead of having to bring additional seating supports every time you fly, wheelchair users could travel in their wheelchair. That would open up air travel to so many people. It would stop wheelchairs being damaged by baggage handlers and would give people the confidence and opportunity to see the world.
This Fridays symposium is the first of its kind, never before has such an event brought together such a group of innovators and creators. It sees airlines, government, wheelchair manufacturers, press, regulators and the disabled community all come together to start the conversation and move wheelchair travel forward within the aviation industry.
This is the start of something very exciting as the industry starts to explore and begin a process towards a solution to enable wheelchair users to travel safely and with dignity in their own wheelchair.
I am excited about this and cannot wait to see the outcomes. Of course we cannot expect air travel to change over night, but could we hope William might be able to travel on a plane in his wheelchair by the time he is an adult? Lets hope so!
It would make a huge difference to our family if this was an option. We wouldn’t have the concern of his wheelchair being damaged, or lost, on the journey. He would have the postural support he so desperately needs, instead of being uncomfortable on the journey. And we wouldn’t have to lift him in and our of his wheelchair to board the plane.
Would these potential changes to the way disabled people could travel in an aircraft make a difference to you or your family?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts on this. I’m really interested to hear your views.