The Locked-In Traveler
(Kati’s Wheelchair Traveling Journals)
From wheels to wings
The most stressful part of a trip (without a doubt) is the flying. Whether it is excitement or anxiety, it can make some neurotic.
People traveling with a wheelchair can check in online but still must go to the counter. The type of assistance you need must be confirmed, and the wheelchair must get its baggage label. Btw, you do not have to pay extra luggage for your wheelchair.
Next comes the security check. The guidelines of wheelchair check and body check varies. Wheelchair checks can be from a simple metal detector test unto getting out of the chair to put it through an x-ray machine. Body check can be; from soft pads around the reachable areas unto a complete lift out of the chair for a full search.
I remember once a woman at security check getting so emotional over my situation, and you could see the tears in her eyes. It was too much for her that she had to ask another colleague to do the checking.
You must always be early at the gate because the people that need help board first. To the other side, we are also the ones that get off last.
I take my wheelchair unto the airplane. Specialized assistance employees meet us at the gate to help me, board. By the entrance of the plane, they lift me to a narrow chair that fits between the aisles and then at the right row, they lift me unto the seat. It sounds simple but is not always as such.
Even though they are trained to deal with the passengers in need, what they mostly encounter are people who just need a helping hand. Unlike most of their cases, I have no movements at all and cannot help them in any way. To make it worse; in moments of stress, I get spastic reactions, which makes it all much tougher.
Once in Kuala Lumpur, the attendants that came to help to lift to the chair were two short skinny women. I petrified imagining them trying to lift me to the chair. As a reaction to the panic my muscles got tense and my body stiff, making it harder to move and heavier to lift. My father and my mother had to do the whole process.
We had another such case traveling to an Asian country and making a transfer in a mid-eastern country. There they were two men. They seemed strong enough, but you could see how they felt uncomfortable with the idea of touching me. After seeing them discussing for a while about; “who and how;” Henning just told them that he would do it himself with the help of my assistant (they had to do this for the rest of the trip.)
Subsequently, after I am brought to my seat the wheelchair is folded and brought to the cargo section. However, it is imminent to take off the removable parts (the back and the footrest) and take them on board with you. Another thing I would recommend is to double-check if they remember to load the wheelchair to the plane.
I once had the pleasure of arriving at the destination and finding out that my wheelchair did not make it. The airport gave me a borrow-chair. However, this was is not the same type as my own chair and was quite uncomfortable.
I love coming back home just as much as I love going on trips. They are both emotions that I want to feel over and over again.
(Kati & Henning van der Hoeven)