If you've been following our latest traveling adventure, then you know that we just went on another European excursion for the 10th time to Berlin and and Munich in Germany as well as Prague in the Czech Republic. What you may not know too much about is the process involved in getting someone with a physical disability or impairment on an airplane.
One of the most common tools that airlines use when helping someone who has a physical disability onto an airplane and into their seat is what is known as an aisle chair. Now if your assigned seat is close to the the front of the plane, then it would probably be best to let the airline employees know that you can manage to board without the use of an aisle chair if you are able to do so with assistance from your caregivers. I should also mention for those who might be wondering just when a person with a disability or any other special needs boards an airplane, we usually are the first ones to get on the plane in the boarding process and the last ones to get off.
If you are not assigned a seat towards the front of the plane and are given a seat in row 29 for example, then the use of an aisle chair is probably required unless an airline is nice enough to upgrade your seats closer to the front of the airplane. It's during those times when all options for potential seat upgrades have been exhausted that people with disabilities and those they are traveling with (family members or otherwise), need to know what to expect and do while using an aisle chair when traveling by air.
To begin with one of the first things to take into account about an airplane aisle chair is just how narrow, skinny and cramped they are compared to a regular manual or power wheelchair. The reason for this is because the aisles in an airplane are pretty narrow and cramped to begin with, so it wouldn't make sense to design any aisle chair using the specifications for a regular manual or power wheelchair.
From my own personal experience of using aisle chairs, I can tell you that it does get easier to use one the more you practice with it and the more you travel and see the world. As an example, one of things that I started doing to practice and prepare myself for this latest trip to Europe and even as far back as our trip to Costa Rica last year was seeing how well I could fold my arms in for those tight spaces on an airplane between the arm rests of the seats and the aisle. Based on this latest traveling adventure, I feel that I've got the arm-folding move down pat.
Another thing to consider about airplane aisle chairs is the kind of straps they use to secure you in place when boarding for your flight and where they are located on the chair itself. Usually there are two sets of strap restraints that go across both the chest and arm area of your body and another set of restraints that go across your legs and feet. Most aisle chairs even come equipped with arm rests on each side to give you even more of a secure feeling when heading to your seat on the plane.
Even with all the security the aisle chair restraints helps provide, it is very important that you practice with the arm folding movements I mentioned above and see how well you can do with it if your are considering traveling somewhere on an airplane because it is only going to help you in the long run when traveling by air. Not to mention the fact that that is one of the questions the airport employees who are responsible for getting you on the airplane and to your seat will ask you before or even when boarding the plane. Another thing that is important to keep in mind while on an aisle chair is that once you are strapped in and secured as best as possible is to stay as still as you can, keep calm and not panic if anything goes wrong because any movement you might make while on the chair will have an impact on how fast you are able to be transported off the plane.
One particular aisle chair adventure that didn't go quite as planned on our latest trip was when we had to get off our flight from Philadelphia to Dallas while heading home from Munich Germany. Let's just say that the two gentlemen who were in charge of getting me off the plane did not know what they were doing at all. By the time I was off the plane my body had slid almost entirely off the aisle chair. It also didn't help that the two guys who helped me off the plane with very limited English speaking skills didn't do a good job of listening to the instructions given by my Dad who was also trying to help with the deplaning process.
It's nice to know that even with that little deplaning obstacle, my family and I made it home safe and sound once again from another successful vacation adventure. In terms of your future travels whether you are disabled or not, I hope this post give you a little insight into another aspect of traveling with a disability that not too many people think about and may take for granted.
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