Travelling with a child with a physical disability that uses a wheelchair takes extra planning. Cooper has been travelling since he was 6 months old and loves exploring new places. Cooper has Dystonic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy and uses a manual quickie Zippie wheelchair while we travel with a freewheel attachment.
Here are our top tips to make the process smoother from home to the holiday destination.
1. Booking that flight.
We have flown on both budget and full service airlines. We just travelled on 11 flights in 11 weeks and it proved to us that every airline is different in the way they handle and support wheelchair services. Overall we were very happy with the service however some check in staff were more helpful and professional than others.
We book all of our adventures ourselves directly through the airlines site.
If booking through an agent they will notify the airline of your request. ( I would confirm this a few times just to make sure)
There is often a box you can check for wheelchair services which can be at varying levels of support, and each airline differs in this.
Tigerairways we had to call up and request wheelchair assistance. We basically just needed to let them now Cooper travels with a wheelchair and how much it weighs.( ours is 12kgs) We also needed to request the lift not stairs out on the tarmac.
Jetstar and Airasia you just tick and box on their site, much easier than calling up and very straightforward. You can request a staff member to help you but we support Cooper while we travel as a family.
We had great experiences in Asia with Malindo Air, East star Jet and T’Way.
SCOOT AIRLINES charged a fee to carry Coopers wheelchair and then to borrow one of their, which has never happened in his 12 years of travel and I am still getting to the bottom of this.
We always take the wheelchair to the door of the plane and help Cooper transfer to his seat. Services vary on airlines and countries with access to hoists, aisle chairs etc.
Best to speak to airline directly.
It is important to remember that communication is key and a smile goes a long way when checking in!
We love using Skyscanner to keep track of the best prices too.
2. Travel Insurance.
As soon as you book that flight, take out travel insurance! We learnt the hard way that Coopers pre-exsting condition was not covered by a budget company so we also use Covermore now.
We have not had to claim as yet.
Cover-more has a form online to fill out to determine whether they will cover your condition/disability. They cover Cooper for Cerebral Palsy of all four limbs, and his epilepsy.( he is non medicated) We have taken out a multi trip policy which covers our trips over a 12 month period. We pay a premium of $100 added to our policy amount. ( The annual policy is around $400)
I do know that hospital admissions and seizures have a direct affect on the cover that can be provided. It is always best to call and talk to the company you are considering using for travel insurance.
Some countries have a medicare reciprocal agreement with Australia. Here is a list of participating countries and the specific conditions. This means that you can use your Australian medicare card just as you would at home.
When we travel to more remote places we carry a letter from Coopers Paediatrician along with some emergency seizure medication. Before you travel make an appointment with your child’s Doctor to organise a supporting letter and information about the medication you are carrying. We carry our medication on board with us. We always travel with some broad spectrum antibiotics which is still in powder form and we just mix it up if needed.
4. Booking accommodation
For any accommodation we book I will always email the property and tell them a little bit about us. I ask questions about conditions of the pathways, bathroom access and steps. Throughout Asia I do not expect great wheelchair access but if I have information we can work around it. It’s all about knowing what to expect!
Before we went to Bali I had been in contact with the villa owners to discuss how the property was accessed so when we arrived I wasn’t surprised that the path was in some disrepair but by the end of our stay it was completely flat and great for access!
Wheelchair Accessible to different people/countries/cultures mean different things too. For example a property stated it was wheelchair accessible which it was once you stepped over two steps at the front door!
Here are links to our favourite sites offering amazing insight into wheelchair travel. These people inspire us to travel and prove that with some planning anything is possible!
Cory has great information from across America to further afield places such as Iceland. He is a great explorer who travels with humour and adventure.
John offers great insight into a variety of airlines around the globe.
Ashley offers great information on accessing nature trails and has a great post on Japan.
6. At the airport.
We always arrive at the airport 3 hours before an international flight and 2 before a domestic flight. It often means we have extra time to hang around at the end but we are all prepared and ready to fly.
Go to the check in counter.
Almost overtime we have flown a staff member has approached us and taken us to a special services desk or to the Premium check in. Our passports are checked and Coopers wheelchair is tagged to our destination. We travel carry on only so we don’t have bags to check in if you do then they are checked in now.
Air travel these days has various security checks. A staff member will often ask Cooper and myself to come through the scanner. Andrew stays with the younger two putting our bags through) The staff ask myself and Cooper if it is okay to do a body check. Cooper being male requires a male to do his check. He remains in his seat and they check under his chair with a mirror and pat down his arms and back.
Going through Immigration.
Our passports are checked and we hand over any departure cards that need doing. ( thankfully these are being phased out leaving Australia)
Cooper remains in his chair and the camera is pointed down to his face by the Immigration Officer.
At the gate.
There are often special reserved seats at the from of the gate where we sit so that check in staff can see Coopers chair.
Often airlines will do an announcement calling for people who need to board first to allow us extra time to get organised and in our seats.
We leave Coopers chair at the door of the plane folded up and ground staff take it to the hold. We then help Cooper walk to his seat ( there is also the aisle chair you can transfer too from this point)
Cooper sits in an airline seat with the seatbelt however you can request or take your own upper torso support if needed.
Now we are ready to fly.
We would love to hear from you about your experiences so we can all support and encourage every family to explore.