An airplane flying in a blue sky with pink clouds, a call out bubble showing a person in an automatic wheelchair seated inside with wheelchair tie-down straps holding them in place, passengers in airplane seats around them

Let’s Make Flying More Accessible

Everybody deserves to get away and chill by the pool or visit their dream destination. But traveling with a disability can be a scary thought considering what medical equipment needs to be packed or how to book a wheelchair-accessible hotel room.

But before you can check-in at the 5-star resort, you need a way to get there. A lot of powered wheelchair users are brave and fly to destinations. I am not that trusting that any airline will get my chair back to me in one piece.

Damaged wheelchairs and scooters

According to a report by the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines mishandled more than 10,000 wheelchairs and scooters in 2019. That equates to a little over 27 damaged mobility devices per day.

Let’s really be honest about what that number means. 27 damaged wheelchairs per day is the same as airlines breaking the legs of 27 able-bodied people and then leaving them stranded.

I know that sounds grim or like an overreaction, but the reason wheelchairs or scooters are constantly damaged or broken by airlines is that they don’t see those objects as an extension of the person who is using them. To airlines, it’s just another piece of luggage that needs to be thrown in with the rest.

Another problem is airline crews lack the training and equipment to safely load wheelchairs. But, more importantly, the industry needs to focus on how to get wheelchairs in the plane so flyers can travel comfortably.

Testing and proposed solutions

An organization founded by an SMA parent (www.allwheelsup.org) is working with the FAA to crash test wheelchairs and create solutions for passengers to stay in their wheelchairs during commercial flights.

Proposed solutions include using tie-downs as we see on certain public transportation and school busses or Q’Straint locks which are common in personal accessible vehicles.

Unfortunately, testing could take years, not to mention cooperation from the FAA, lawmakers, and commercial airlines. In the meantime, I think I’ll stay off airplanes. One reported damaged wheelchair is enough for me to say it’s not worth the risk.

How I travel with SMA

So, how do I travel? Well, I drive everywhere.

I have driven cross-country 7 times and I’ll admit that it started out fun but after the fifth trip, it gets a little boring. The best way to do it is to plan your route.

Research cities you’d like to spend a night in and call ahead to book a hotel. Driving can get stressful if your only goal is to get from point A to B but the best part of a road trip is making random stops to check out how accessible the world is. You’d be surprised.

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