Airasia Airlines held a flash sale one night for an hour and for $456 I got 5 tickets for our family of 5 from Melbourne to Penang return. 5 months later we jumped on that plane and discovered Penang, Malaysia for 10 days.
We travel with three kids aged 10,7,3 and our eldest son who uses a manual wheelchair ( he has Cerebral Palsy Dystonic Quadriplegia) while we travel. It weighs 12 kgs and is a fixed frame ( Quickie Zippie) The airlines like to know the weight for fuel consumption so its essential to know this or pop it on the luggage scales at check in like I did!
The wheelchair is tagged at check in.
This time we did not have any check in luggage as we attempted carry on only this flight with 3 bags weighing 7kgs each.
Due to Cooper using a wheelchair they usually give us seats close to the entry but with budget airlines sometimes that doesn’t work due to quiet child free zones or the fact that I refuse to pay extra to allocate a seat.
We leave Coopers wheelchair with the back folded down at the door and I make sure a ground staff person takes it down to the hold. We also have a little badge with Coopers name and picture on it hoping that it gets looked after nicely by making it more personal.
We help Cooper walk to his seat while onboard as he is able to take some independent steps now.
They do have aisle chairs available if needed. One adult supports Cooper while the other has the bags and the younger kids. Because we are the first to board staff are always willing to give us a hand too.
On the way to KL we were in row 30 but on the way back it was 49 (the last row being 51) but we were all seated together. Our two domestic flights we were seated in row 4 and 5.
While onboard an adult needs to sit with Cooper to support his eating and his toileting. Airplane toilets are small anyway but we manage at this stage with squeezing in and supporting Cooper ( he needs some stability support while the plane is moving) other than that he loves just watching movies and playing on his iPad.
Before we land I always check with a crew member that they can radio down to let the ground staff know that Cooper needs his wheelchair at the door of the plane or at least an airport wheelchair.
This time with our 4 flights the staff came to me first with about an hour left of the flight so I didn’t need to remind anyone. Each time we had to wait an extra 10 mins while the wheelchair was brought up to us. That is always a great chance to chat with the pilot and have a look inside the cockpit!
We don’t book special services on these flights but WE DO notify the airline that Cooper uses a wheelchair ( we do this online when booking) and cannot use steps however we can support him and don’t need a staff member to walk with us.
Penang did not have airbridge and only stair access so they brought out the lift for 4 wheelchair users on our flight. It just means being last to get off but we then got to get some cool pics of the plane!
On arrival in Penang we had a few transport options and we discovered that Coopers chair can just fix in the back of a sedan boot as long as they have some octopus straps as the boot won’t shut. It means that 4 of us are in the back but that its much more convenient than waiting for a van. Buses also run across the island from the airport.
While travelling around Penang the Rapid bus system is very modern and have a wheelchair ramp and wheelchair spot to sit with a seatbelt. We loved the ease of buses around the island. After you flag down the bus the driver will open the back doors and come down and pull the ramp or we would do it on occasion too. You can buy a pass or just a ticket each trip. ( no change given)
Sometimes in the heat it was easier to jump in a taxi. Coopers manual chair has a fixed frame so can’t fold up as such. It can fold down a bit and the wheels pop off easily to make it compact.
Footpaths around the island are in great disrepair or covered in motor bikes so we often found it easier to take Cooper on the road which for the younger kids then meant dodging sewers and drains. It’s not a place you can relax and wander you have to be alert all the time and watching the road.
Some passage ways are beautiful though.
Shopping centres had great lift access most of the time but often random steps which was okay with a manual chair but a power chair would struggle and need to always be finding another path.
Penang Hill had good wheelchair access but with a small horizontal gap between platform and carriage. They were great though in spotting us arriving and explaining where the wheelchair access was and took us there.
All tourist attractions we visited were free of charge for a person with a disability. ( as well as a child under 4)
Kek Lok Si Temple has 1000 steps so there are lots of parts that are really tricky to access. you can get a car to the middle point but there are steps everywhere. We left Coopers chair halfway and helped him walk up to the temple.
It was hard work at times wandering the streets and enjoying the culture with young kids and supporting Cooper in his chair. It was really muggy and hot ( over 30 each day) which meant we had lots of little stops to refuel the kids with fresh fruit or a cold drink. It’s all part of the adventure and very doable its just not particularly relaxing! but then traveling is all about exploring and wheeling outside our comfort zone!