Traveling with a wheelchair
In response to Thora Jervey’s request for accounts of wheelchair travel (Sept. ’08, pg. 63), might my wife, Gerry, and I offer some thoughts?
We have traveled by land and sea around the globe with Gerry being dependent upon a wheelchair. It takes planning!
First, for land travel we require a wheelchair-accessible room as a base. We have found Holiday Inns to be very dependable here and abroad. They book wheelchair rooms as a separate category. That is to say, it’s like reserving the honeymoon suite. They are reserving that specific type of room; it’s NOT ‘We know you prefer an accessible room but we don’t have any right now. . .’
Using a known accessible room as a base, one can take day trips out and back as, for example, we did to see Ethiopia from Addis Ababa in March ’05.
For cruise planning, consider the “Berlitz Complete 2009 Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” (2008, Berlitz Guides. ISBN 9812685642 — 688 pp., $25), which shows the number of elevators and wheelchair cabins.
Some lines are more informed about shore excursion problems and possibilities. We are still marveling that when we booked the Queen of the North to Alaska, they had a bus with a wheelchair lift at each stop and a railcar with a lift for the train excursion!
Nothing tops our tall ship experience along Spain’s Mediterranean coast (see Oct. ’03, pg. 20) with Jubilee Sailing Trust (Hazel Road, Woolston, Southampton, SO19 7GB; phone +44 0 23 8044 9108, fax 8044 9145, www.jst.org.uk).
For air travel, go to the FAA website and the section for passengers with disabilities (www.faa.gov/passengers/passengers_ disabilities) and click on the “on the plane” section. It states that on flights originating in the USA, “at least one” folding wheelchair has top priority for space in a cabin closet provided for passengers’ carry-on items. Then print the page and bring it with you along with the FAA’s toll-free number (800/835-5322) to call when there are problems.
If you get resistance, ask for the CFO (conflict resolution official), as spelled out in the FAA info. If necessary, suggest the captain read the FAA information, and offer to have a “gate hold” put on the flight until they get the picture.
For example, we had a problem on a flight to South Africa in 2003. When the captain read our FAA sheet, he decided the FAA trumped the airline’s rules. Why make a fuss over the cabin closet? Think of the difficulty of getting a damaged wheelchair fixed in many parts of the world!