Wednesday, May 9, 2012

flying for the disabled

recently i did something i not only thought wasn't possible, but also thought i'd never have the courage to even attempt.  i got on a plane, by myself, a flew across the country. by myself! despite all of my fears and concerns i'd face as a paraplegic, everything worked out and played out smoothly.  i might have dangerously dehydrated myself so i wouldn't need to use the bathroom on the plane and had some very awkward interactions with people helping along the way, but i did it! and i'm not afraid to do it again.  for anyone disable or wheelchair bound, i'd like to share some helpful information on what you may experience, in hopes of maybe providing peace of mind for others who may be freaking out as badly as i did. 

first off, if you have someone who can help you out, that will make everything significantly easier. i was lucky enough have handy dandy helpers on my journey. most importantly, wheelchair users can have someone assist them right up to the gate. meaning, i had my papabear get a gate pass, which could be acquired at my airline's desk. my dad was able to walk me and help me through security up to the moment i left to get on the plane. i realized i didn't quite need the help through this whole process, but it was nice to have someone there. next time i think i'll brave it alone. when i arrived at my destination, 6 1/2 long hours later, i had my loverboy, with his gate pass, waiting at the gate for me. like i said, not really necessary, but definitely put my mind at ease. 

getting through security is easy.  when you get to the airport and see the massive sea of people waiting to get through security, you'll be happy to know there's a nice little bypass line on the side for wheelchair users. we get to skip the line. take that, walkers. with your fancy "walking" and "standing" tricks.  the fun part of security is when you get to be felt up and down and all around, the famous pat down since we cannot go through metal detectors. fear not, if you're uncomfortable you can have this done in private.

the biggest issue i was worried about, by far, was having to use the bathroom mid-flight.  clearly as a paraplegic, i'm not able to walk down those teeny tiny aisles and squeeze into the bathroom. being by myself, i had no one to carry or assist me if i needed. i came up with a few solutions, with the help and suggestions of fellow paraplegics and friends. worst case scenario, for those who use catheters, a curtain or sheet covering you for privacy in your seat may be your only option. obviously this is steered more towards the men. personally, i don't use catheters so the brainstorming continues. another idea out there (for the ladies) is an external catheter, which apparently basically suctions to your "area" and connects to a bag that you squeeze somewhere in your pants. awkward and kind of embarrassing, but i guess it's better than sitting in a nice warm puddle of your own pee, right...?  final solution: apparently there must be an aisle chair on the plane, with a bathroom large enough to fit it, and a curtain available if need be. the airline seemed to be accommodating, so i just drank as little as possible (for a few days. irrational, unhealthy, and not recommended) and hoped for the best.  luckily it didn't become an issue, but it's nice to know there are options and i hope others may benefit from them as well.

the rest is cake, cookies, and ice cream. a light carry on bag that rests on my lap (or the back of your chair). checking bigger, heavier bags (with the help of family/friends or airport employees carrying them check in). ask for an aisle chair at the gate. assistance is available transferring in and out of it. window seat when possible, so no one has to climb on or over my little immobile body. first one on the plane, last one off.  

so all you strong, independent people who refuse to let a few wheels and limp limbs get in the way of living a fulfilling, exciting life: whether you're a first-time flyer or a solo-flyer, i've found it's tough to find useful information out there, so i HOPE my tips and information can ease some minds or help in some way ! 

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