Once you’re disabled in any way or just elderly and frail,Im sure you all have horror stories about travel and if you don’t there are a dozen in the media every day. Most travelers who are disabled are guilty of the old maxim “they didn’t plan to fail, they failed to plan”
Me personally, I have a horror story of the first order, while I was at LAX in 2011 returning from Australia, I was stopped at the TSA check point changing from my Qantas international from Sydney to my domestic American to new york by the tsa officer. The officer told me ”out of the chair walk over stand in the corner and wait while we x-ray the chair”.
I attempted several times to point out as a disabled person without the ability to stand or walk that it was a medical impossibility, so she spoke into her shoulder microphone telling the other person “I have a non compliant combatant I need a private room for a strip search”. When after 20 minutes of pleading an intelligent life form in the guise of a supervisor asked her what she thought wheelchairs were for? she replied
”MY GRAN MAMMY TOLD ME WHEN WHITE FOLK GET RICH THEY EMPLOY COLORED FOLK TO PUSH THEM CAUSE THEY TOO LAZY TO WALK ANYMORE!”
I wish I was exaggerating or lying but I will take a lie detector test this rocket scientist was what passed for our border protection.
What I did in my eagerness to return to my native Australia for a six month holiday was just buy the ticket and go.
While in Australia my wheelchair frame snapped, my rear wheels broke, my casters broke twice and I needed a cardiologist, a neurologist, a endocrinologist a primary care physician and I pre-organized none of it in short I failed to plan!.
Tomorrow at 12 noon I am boarding a plane for Australia, whats the difference this time?
1/ I discovered every airline has a disabled services department, if you are elderly infirmed disabled or even have say a broken leg and are temporarily in a chair, Disabled services books your ticket and arranges for an agent to meet you at check in takes you through security, TSA and helps with your luggage. They early board you, then if thats not enough an agent meets every lay over or plane change and gets you and your belongings smoothly from one plane to another and if MY stupid TSA friend has a twin they intervene and explain your disability to them. They even can load you on a golf cart and get you through some airports where you get off at gate 1, and your next plane is gate 200. Look for their number on all airline websites, they also arrange service dogs to travel right beside you on the plane.
2/ If you’re visiting a city for more than a day or two, go online find all relevant medical providers and even give them a quick call.
3/If you use a mobility device or a wheelchair of any kind go on the net and check providers and repairers in the city or cities you’re traveling to, and keep a file of opening hours locations phone and email numbers and any travel directions needed to find them.
4/ Call all the hotels you’re booked into, and asked what if any medical services they have on call and how far it is to the nearest ER.
5/ Print out all the information you’ve researched and call them if necessary and bring two copies of that file with you.
6 If you must travel with medications, remember not all countries allow all meds so get letters on letter heads from your doctors stating what you take,why you take it,and how often you take it and that it must be kept on your persons at all times.
7/ WARNING if you must inject yourself while you’re away, DONOT TAKE YOUR NEEDLES WITH YOU take the liquid and get your sharps at a doctor when you arrive. Needles can be seen as a weapon by airlines and you may be kicked off your flight, or even detained.
8/ Carry another file with your family home contacts, and your doctors contacts and lawyers contacts in them in case of emergency.
9/ Leave your credit card numbers and your passport numbers and your hotel and car rental and flight numbers confirmations and a small amount of cash with a relative or someone you can trust and make sure that person has a copy of number 8.
Remember airline staff are over worked, they handle thousands of people a day and most of those think they are the only passenger in the world. A smile and a thank you goes a long way, and if you’re traveling with a partner no matter how empowered you are as an independent strong disabled person I have found have a discussion before you leave letting your partner know what you will and won’t accept and how you will allowed yourself to be handled or whether you will at all and then let them speak.
If you’re traveling alone, when you meet the agent from disabled services give them a piece of paper with all the above information on it and let them do what they’re paid for. Another great idea is through the wonders of the social media,try and get as many friends in every destination to meet you at the airport so a familiar face is there to make all the problems you may have endured small.
Another great Idea a friend of mine did, was on face book and twitter start a disability travel club. They become you’re familiar face in their city or country and quid pro quo you’re waiting at the airport for them to return the favor. Organize friends to show you around their city and pay them by picking up the lunch tab and pick their brains who repairs their chair? and Who is the best bike shop for a quick flat tire repair. The best way to enjoy yourself is to know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who is there as your lifeline before you fly and lastly HAVE FUN.
See you when I land in Australia and expect copious pics from the wide brown land down under.
Footnote- if at anytime you’re worried about travelling an need help please contact me through the blog and we’ll help locate all the services mentioned above to make your trip enjoyable for you.