Over the last week I traveled to Anaheim, California from Raleigh, North Carolina for a medical technology conference I was speaking at. I’ve traveled on planes before, but I’ve always had an entourage of people to help me as a quadriplegic paralyzed from the chest down with no hand function.
I know so many of my friends who either travel alone or only travel with one companion. I wanted to pull my big girl pants up and try this myself with one person because, well, this is life. I cannot always have an entourage with me and I feel blessed that I have been able to thus far.
I took a journey across the country with one of my amazing humans in my life who helped me and it was an adventure to say the least. There was good, bad, and the ugly – although, all with laughs along the way even in absurd circumstances.
I learned some key valuable lessons, iterated a design on breaking down my wheelchair for the plane, and try new techniques with teaching the staff in the airport how to lift me properly without the help of my caregiver all the time.
I also learned a key lesson about Boeing 737’s, a very standard plain for domestic flight travel in the US, with respect to the cargo hold. I know the cargo hold schematics with respect to height is about 35 inches, which my chair does breakdown too.
What I did not know is that the door opens inward, which makes it a lower threshold for power chairs. This provided a great deal of stress as I had to walk many individuals through how to gently tilt the chair without tipping it over to get it inside.
It worked quite well on the way to California, but not so much on the way back when our plane was broken, they had to re-load and unload me + my wheelchair multiple times. Thankfully, the wheelchair damage was cosmetic, but still need to figure out a better solution for the future.
In any event, I created a YouTube video from start to finish to hopefully give confidence or provide some useful strategies for fellow wheelchair users.
I know this experience may make some folks not want to travel by wheelchair, but while we are fighting for systemic change in the airline industry, we still need to learn how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances in order to enjoy our lives as well!
This is what we do best, I find, in the disability community – we become the most creative problem solvers in all aspects of our lives personally and professionally!