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Air travel continues to be a challenge for wheelchair using disabled passengers, mainly for two reasons. First, the fear that the wheelchair might get damaged in transit, a not so uncommon occurrence that can create serious mobility issues. Second, not being able to use a toilet on aboard. Imagine getting dehydrated on long-haul flights, besides it being a dehumanizing experience.
Some wheelchair users have a serious disability making them use a motorized custom-designed wheelchair, which they need to give up at the entrance of the plane. Many disabled passengers are physically carried onto the plane, and transferred onto a seat.
Visiting Toronto in 1988, I was impressed to see the care being given to the disabled wheelchair riding citizens. Each morning a passenger van pulled up near my residence to pick up an office-goer who was on wheelchair. The van took 4 wheelchair passengers to their respective offices. The driver kept sitting in his seat, and pressed a button to open the rear gate of the van, and to lower a ramp down to the road level. The passenger would then maneuver his/her powered wheelchair to go up the ramp into the van. While sitting in his wheelchair, the passenger would dock the wheelchair to secure it to the vehicle floor, as well as to a side-railing, immobilizing it for safety in the moving van. When the passenger gave an OK signal, the driver would press a button to close the rear door, and move on to pick up the next wheelchair office-goer.
The city of Tokyo has made comprehensive plans to use the Aug. 25 – Sept. 6 Tokyo Paralympics in 2020 as a catalyst to make the city accessible for wheelchair users. Around 4,300 Paralympic athletes would arrive in Tokyo. Though they would stay at Athletes’ Village, they will go around the city, too. 93 percent of train stations in Tokyo have step-free access, 96 percent have universal-access toilets and all have tactile paving!
The charges of a taxi-hailing service for the disabled in Bangalore include the service by the driver to help the passenger board and keep the wheelchair securely in the dickey. With so much awareness to cater to the needs of the disabled traveling by taxis, buses, trains, etc. why do the airlines remain untouched?
Currently, airlines charge extra for services to beat the losses, viz. for food being served, for any excess baggage beyond the permitted allowance, and for choice of seats like isle- or a window-seat. Commercial angle has also led to continual reduction of leg-space between rows of seats to put additional seats. That puts even normal passengers to difficulty on long-haul flights. But it is harsher on the disabled, some of whom need the extra few inches for maneuverability. Why can’t airlines provide the requisite facilities on board to the disabled, even if against payment, such as dedicated slots in the aircraft where wheelchairs can be secured, and the disabled passengers who own them can use them as seats for air-travel?
When wheelchairs arrive damaged at their destination, the airlines/airports claim no responsibility. Wheelchairs with power controls operated by the user, unaided, can be quite expensive. The ground crew of airlines need to stow the wheelchairs with utmost care in the luggage hold, and treat them as a very delicate cargo, and definitely not the way most luggage pieces travel. Mishandling a wheelchair can put the electronic controls at risk. If the wheelchair gets damaged due to mishandling in transit, the passenger would be stranded upon arrival, with no way to get around.
In the event of a crash, the disabled passenger would have a better chance of getting off the plane if one just had to unhook a lever quickly, than if his/her wheelchair was stowed in the luggage bin of the plane. It is just a lack of commitment among airlines to solve the problem. Dedicating one or two front-row seats for wheelchair docking spots is a solution, so that the disabled wheelchair passenger can travel sitting in one’s own wheelchair, which can be de-docked quickly during an emergency. And the airline can be allowed to plug in a regular airline seat into the docking spot whenever a wheelchair is not in use.
To make the seat safer they can be installed facing toward the rear of the airplane. All the flight attendants seats face backwards.
The airlines also need to educate their ground crews about where wheelchairs are stowed in the hold and how they should be secured to prevent damage. For those of us who depend on wheelchairs for mobility, we can’t exactly pack an extra chair in our luggage and if the one chair we have with us is damaged in transit, we’re stranded at our destination without a way to get around.
my wife and i have travelled a few times, she is using a power wheelchair that weighs about 280lbs. wheelchair damaged in Toronto and Orlando as the ramp staff must tip the chair over on its side to put it into the forward hold. the access is too short to drive or push the chair into the hold. we are prepared to drive 24 hrs now to avoid this damge to a 14,000$CDN chair. we just can’t let ramp employees continue to drop the chair off of the belt loader. they do not recognise that it takes at least 2 people to maneuvre it safely in and out. also putting it on it’s side puts the electronic controls at risk.
My question is who is going to assist a wheelchair bound passenger off the aircraft in event of an emergency. The crew certainly cannot be tasked with that with hundreds of passengers that they are responsible for, and if I have to get out quickly, as much as I hate to say this, I’m not sure I’d risk my own life to save a stranger..as awful as that sounds, its honest. How would a wheelchair bound person have gotten off the flight that landed in the Hudson river when the plane was almost completely submerged and people were balanced on the wing tips…
First off – they are not “wheelchair bound”. Wheelchairs are freedom of movement – that’s a good thing. They would have a better chance of getting off the plane if you just had to unhook a restraint quickly than if their wheelchair was stowed underneath the plane. We all take risks everyday. According to your logic there’s no safe place – cars and trains wreck, boats sink, buildings catch on fire. People in wheelchairs have the rights of every citizen and that includes traveling. Most planes aren’t going to crash, but the chances of the wheelchair being damaged in the hold mean that the person is much more likely to be stranded when they get off the plane. Most people have customized seating systems that are safer and more comfortable for them than being put into a regular seat that doesn’t properly support them.
But airplanes are essential infrastructure. Many people have never flown on an airplane their entire life.
I met a man creating a product rental company based on the idea of private ownership of goods to be rented. Their base product to start was accessibility products for home and travelers. The story is amazing! He, as the company owner, actually does go and deliver some of the wheelchairs and told me of the people who cry at delivery. One father he had to ask, why do you cry. His reply was something about that he was so tired of carrying his disabled daughter everywhere. The owners premise was that 30% of wheelchairs arrive to their destination damaged and the airlines/airports claim no responsibility. His company is Cloud of Goods. I am not affiliated, just impressed by his story.
I have two colleagues that are over 6’11” tall and you should see them try to fly, talk about uncomfortable. They literally can not sit down, they have to have their rear end several inches off the seat…. My father was disabled with rheumatoid arthritis from his early 20’s and in a wheel chair and could not fly so I get it in terms of folks in wheel chairs and their challenges, but there are many others (extremely tall for example or extremely short) that also are not comfortable or safe. Maybe the whole plane should be segmented by classifications for wheel chairs, tall folks, short folks, heavy folks, etc…. I suspect that such a solution would lead to 2x the cost of flying for everyone.
If airplanes had slots where wheelchairs could be secured as seats for air travel, there is no reason why removable seats using the same system for securing but sized for non-average-size able bodied folks couldn’t be designed. Extremely tall or short frequent travelers could bring their own seat, and maybe there could be rental options for less-frequent flyers. Wheel chair users should probably get priority, but airlines could add “wheelchair spots” if demand were high enough.
This push reminds of the thousands and thousands of unused cranes that had to be installed at a pool accessible to the public. It is ridiculous to try to build an infrastructure that is 100% accessible. You know how many people will be riding wheel chairs if this is created? Do “comfort” animals come to mind? Everything has to be stretched to complete idiocy.
Did you have fun? Did you get everything out of your system?
What benefit would someone get from pretending to use a wheelchair on a plane? They’d have to obtain a random wheelchair, which would nearly always be less comfortable than a regular seat. As a “walking person” with a disabled spouse, I can tell you that pretenders would not have patience for maneuvering such a chair down the gangplank, being unable to self-manage their luggage, and skipping bathroom use for the entire flight. It is very unlikely these policies would be abused.
(Take an already existing example: people could “cheat” to buy disabled seats at a concert or sporting event, and yet disability fraud is not a rampant issue. The reason being, the benefits of pretending aren’t that great!!)
So you are saying because people misuse things that its ok for those in wheelchairs to be uncomfortable and dehumanized? I have been flying since the age of 5 (I am 40) and I hate the whole process. I am bumped bruised and cant go to the restroom for hours.
Just because you aren’t there to see the lift in use doesn’t mean that it hasn’t served someone who needed the benefits of swimming. I for one was ecstatic about being able to exercise without fear of falling and breaking a bone. I consider them a HUGE blessing. As for flying, the chair they transfer you too barely fits down the isle. I was seated mid plane and could not have gotten out if there was a problem. I figure I’m toast if there is an accident. Not to mention dehydrating myself before flight to limit the need to go to the bathroom. Really messes you up. You should try being in a chair for 24 hours, it will give you a whole new perspective.