* This post is kindly sponsored by the companies listed at the end of this post, but all opinions are my own. *
Following on from my previous post that was all about preparing for a flight (CLICK HERE to read), below is a list of ideas that may help you both onboard and in the airport!
Regarding you have pre-booked your passenger assistance and located the disabled parking /drop off zones, the process of checking in should be pretty straightforward! You may even be able to check-in online the day before your journey, allowing you to save the time upon arrival. However, certain airlines don’t allow passengers travelling with medical equipment to do this, so always allow plenty of time to check-in as it can often take a little longer when travelling with a wheelchair.
Next up is the security area where your bags will be scanned, you will be patted down and your equipment will be swabbed/checked over. Thankfully many airports in the UK have a dedicated area for the elderly, passengers with a disability or families with young children, allowing you to take your time and maintain some privacy. However, some airports do not offer this service; so I recommend informing a member of staff once you get to the bag check area that you may require a little extra time to organise your medical supplies, cross check your prescriptions and safely get through the security. Due to the large amount of medical supplies I have to carry, staff will often stop other passengers from queuing up behind me. Something I really appreciate, as it prevents me from getting knocked, allows me to concentrate on not loosing any of my vital supplies and ensures my information stays private. However there have been times where this hasn’t happened, resulting in several people moaning about the fact I was taking too long whilst listening to all my personal information. But that’s a story for another day! Either way, if you go into the security area knowing that the process can be time consuming and a little hectic, it is much easier to deal with. It also helps if you follow the list of packing tips in my previous post, as it prevents staff from muddling up your supplies, loosing something important and makes the process of repacking your bag a lot easier!
By the time I reach the departures area, I am usually worn out from the hustle and bustle of checking in and navigating security. So in order to maximise my time and ensure I can get through the flight ahead, I typically head straight to the quiet zone (which I have researched and located prior to my flight) whilst my carer grabs any supplies we might need for the journey. All of which is something the passenger assistance team can help you with, regarding you give them plenty of notice! Some airports also have a sensory room, where you can safely stretch out and escape the sights and sounds of the terminal. One of our lovely followers recently filmed her visit to the sensory room at Gatwick airport, which I have linked HERE if you are interested in familiarising yourself with the facility.
I always recommend going to the toilet prior to boarding your flight, because you might not have the opportunity to do so once you reach the gate. This also prevents me from having to use the onboard toilet during short haul flights, as it isn’t always easy to get out of my seat and into a tiny toilet cubicle to catheterise!
Once you get to the correct gate, don’t be ashamed to go straight to the desk and remind staff that you would like to board first. Even though this is typically a routine procedure, information doesn’t always get passed on and/or they can be keen to start boarding all passengers if there has been a delay. So unless there is a valid reason as to why I need to wait, I am usually able to take my wheelchair to the aircraft door and board the plane in my own time without other passengers pushing past me! Although you must make it clear at check in if you need to do this, as you wheelchair will require a specific tag to be taken from/returned to the aircraft door.
Once I get to the door I immediately take any loose items off my wheelchair (such as my seat cushion, PYC Calf Strap and BundleBean Organiser), before informing the crew that my wheelchair is tagged and must be returned to the aircraft door. Therefore if there are any problems upon arrival, they can address the issue immediately on my behalf! In addition to this, I also give a brief description of my condition so they know what to expect if things flare up. Obviously this is not compulsory and may not be necessary for everyone; but I know my breathing can get very weak and wheezy during a flight, which has previously triggered an onboard medic being called, despite my carer telling them that the issue was part of my disability. So by doing this either in person or via a doctors letter, the crew are reassured that I will let them know if/when I need any help. Thankfully most people go out of their way to help you, but I have met a handful of cabin crew that practically ignored me because they simply didn’t know how to address my disability. Hence why I recommend speaking up and not being ashamed to give the crew clear instructions as and when you need help. This is also particularly useful for anyone with allergies, or who may need additional assistance when using the onboard toilet, as the crew will know exactly how to assist you as soon as you need to go. There is nothing worse than being desperate for the toilet and waiting for the crew to communicate with each other about how they are going to help you!
If you are also like me and struggle with severe asthma and/or allergies, I would highly recommend getting face mask with filtered technology from the Cambridge Mask Company! Their masks have a unique triple filter system that protects your from bacterias and viruses onboard, along with some of the strong scents within the duty free perfume shops located in departures. Because let’s face it, the last thing you need is to have an asthma attack in a perfume shop, moments before you are due to board the plane! The things I love most about these masks are the fashion friendly designs, the fact they are easy to adjust and suitable for the whole family! They are also really comfortable, meaning I had no issues wearing my mask whilst in the airport and onboard the plane!
Flying can be difficult for anyone when it comes to keeping yourself comfortable and entertained; so add a disability into the mix and you can expect the stress levels to increase dramatically! Because of this, I recommend taking any essential items (such as baby wipes, a drink and any medications you will need to use inflight) out of your bag and storing them in the seat pocket in front of you as soon as you get to your seat. I typically keep everything in a small toiletry bag to make this process easier, before stowing my backpack under the seat infront of me. Not only does this ensure that my essential items are easy to access, but I don’t have to panic if the seatbelt sign comes on and I urgently require something from my bag! Yes this has happened to me before, which is why I am now fixated on organising my things! If you have read my previous post, then you will know that I also recommend keeping all your medical supplies for the duration of your trip with you onboard; but if you are anything like me, then it is impossible to fit everything into one backpack. However, this method ensures that you have everything you could possibly need inflight by your feet (such as a change of clothes and a battery pack), then the rest of your luggage can be put away in the overhead lockers!
In addition to the examples listed above, I always bring snacks for both myself and my carer mainly to save time and money, but also so I don’t have to worry about finding something suitable for my allergies and intolerances. Its also worth noting that most airlines are more than happy to keep your meal aside if you are unable to eat it during the meal service. Always pack some wipes and resealable plastic bags with you, which might sounds strange but I honestly use both of these items every time I fly. Especially if I need to sterilise a surface before drawing up some medications; if I have a catheter leak, so need to clean myself up and pack away my wet clothes; to keep my snacks sealed if I don’t finished them; or if security ask me to open and taste something when going through security.
Finally, my last recommendation is to bring a blanket and pillow, particularly if you are flying long haul as the seats can get quite uncomfortable after several hours! Some people even use their wheelchair cushion onboard, however because I am so tall I find my cushion raises me up too much, leaving my neck unsupported. Instead I have a v shaped pillow, which allows me to prop myself up either against the window or my carer. I then use my blanket for a number reasons, including staying warm, supporting my neck or covering my seat if I am keen to avoid germs!