O.M.G. is this really happening?! Today is the day where I will be flying as a ‘normal’ passenger for the first time after my stroke. Normal passenger? When I happened to have the stroke, I was transported while lying down on the plane (I was in Australia, so I had to get back to Germany somehow). Anyways, being dependent on a wheelchair and assistance, I never dared to dream of travelling – or even think about it. But here I am now, wanting to share my experiences with you and hoping that those will help and encourage you to travel too!
Inform the airlines before your flight
It is very important to inform the airline about the impairment. The best time to do this is when you book your tickets. So the airline is informed and hopefully won’t be overwhelmed when they see a disabled person at the airport. Since this trip was a group trip, I didn't had to worry about the organizational stuff. Nevertheless, I would like to touch on them briefly so that you have a rough idea of the process.
The registration of the required assistance can only be done after a booking, because the booking number is required. You can usually register this assistance by phone on the service hotline or online via forms. However, you will always find information on the homepage of the respective airline. And depending on what kind of disability you have, there are also certain codes that you can specify when registering.
|WCHR||Passenger can walk short distances and can also climb stairs|
|WCHS||Passenger can walk short distances but cannot climb stairs|
|WCHC||Passenger cannot walk independently and cannot climb stairs|
|BLND||Visually impaired or blind passenger|
|DEAF||Deaf, hearing impaired or deaf mute passenger|
|DPNA||Passenger with mental disability or learning impairment|
In any case, you are on the safe side if you know your code and can provide it! Apart from the fact that you have to register the assistance, you should also plan enough time for the check-in!
Try to sit in your own wheelchair for as long as possible
Our accompanying teacher had already been on a trip with a wheelchair user and then told us how important it was to insist on being allowed to remain seated in one's own wheelchair for as long as possible. Because he had already witnessed how the wheelchair got lost during the transfer and was later returned to its owner. And since we didn't want that to happen, we also insisted that I transfer only before boarding the plane.
There we were, standing in line at the check-in counter. Another important tip: Be early at the airport. That way you have enough time to ask the staff for help and tell them everything you need help with. Often airlines prefer a person with a disability to board the plane first, but also to be the last to leave the plane. There is a simple reason for this - so following guests don't have their path blocked. I can totally understand this. Because it's just annoying when you get stuck somewhere unnecessarily. Anyway, an employee then appeared, picked us up at the counter and took us to the gate. From there on, I had to transfer to a special narrow wheelchair, which was then used to push me through the small aisles of the plane. Meanwhile, my actual wheelchair was loaded onto the plane by hardworking staff. The staff was super friendly and they even helped me transfer. Since I can stand a bit, the transfer was quite easy. So I can say that the staff at "China Southern Airline" is first class. They lend a hand and are very helpful.
So how does going to the toilet work?
The entire flight lasted 12 hours. And now you may wonder if it is possible to go to the toilet. Well, my seat was right next to the toilet. Of course, it was extremely annoying that the toilet door opened and closed all the time, but the seat definitely simplified going to the bathroom. All I really had to do was stand up and stand, my assistant had to lift me a little and turn me in the appropriate direction, and then I was just sitting down on the toilet.
Unfortunately, I couldn't pull my legs all the way into the toilet cubicle, because the toilet cubicle is really tiny and my spastic legs wanted to claim the space for themselves. This is where the assistant helped me out, she just stood right in front of the door to give me some privacy. After dinner, a few good movies and a deep sleep, my first day of the trip passed in the air.
Three things I learned from this day:
1) Mention that you need a wheelchair/assistance when booking the tickets
2) Be early at the airport
3) Try to book a seat close to the toilet or at the aisle, so it is easier to reach the toilet