Air travel for wheelchair users

It can be a trying time for anyone when it comes to travelling. But travelling when you have mobility issues can be a whole new level of stressful. From pre-planning to navigating various accessibility options (or lack thereof), it can be a thoroughly unenjoyable experience. Alongside living independently, we’re focusing in on airports and their current, restrictive regulations on wheelchair users in particular.

By current laws, wheelchairs are not allowed on board a plane. This is a ruling which has sparked a lot of debate, with questions of passenger safety and dignity arising in discussions. Consequent campaigns, such as the work of Flying Disabled, are suggesting that the government must act to implement legislation, to rethink policies on travelling with a disability. Airports are often hectic, busy environments but some prior knowledge can be useful to navigate accessible facilities such as toilets.

Wheelchair users looking the travel by plane must have their wheelchair stored within the hold. The advice from Gov.uk outlines the importance of contacting your airline as soon as possible should you intend on travelling with a wheelchair or mobility aid; however the impacts of being without mobility assistance are often difficult to resolve. Typically, airline policies should include some guidance or help for the boarding process, to ensure that the traveller feels safe. Travel is a notoriously wealthy industry, and ABTA have found that there are currently more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, which underlines the need for an increase in inclusivity.

Health and safety is often cited as the reason for this frustrating rule, but it’s further hampered by often uncooperative airline responses. A common problem faced by travellers is that their mobility aid may not fold up, and therefore cannot be stored, leaving the customer relatively helpless. There have also been numerous reports of chairs becoming damaged while in motion, which prompts questions of the treatment of accessible travel and the measures currently in place to support it.

Campaigners have suggested that a designated wheelchair zone on a plane could prove beneficial. While wheelchairs can be used safely to navigate the airport terminal itself, the issues faced on board can be avoided with enough planning ahead of travel. Requesting an aisle seat is helpful for getting to and from the toilet facilities, allowing for mobility while flying.

Some wheelchair users are, sadly, left stranded due to poor communications from airlines. Multiple organisations are working to amplify this sentiment as wheelchairs are essentially the key to independence for those effected by disability, and policies of the travel industry could perhaps be doing more to appreciate this.

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