Travelling is one of my favourite things to do. I love visiting new places and the experiences it brings. However, air travel as a wheelchair user has always been my least favourite way to travel. Like most wheelchair users, having to get out of my comfortable wheelchair and be manhandled into the aisle chair and then into the aircraft seat is painful, unsafe and undignified. Thankfully there is a new invention called the ableSling (formerly called easyTravelseat) which is helping make air travel more comfortable for wheelchair users.
I got to try the ableSling and have since used it for several flights. I’m now excited to share my thoughts and experience of using this seat and how the ableSling makes air travel simple for disabled travellers.
What is the ableSling?
The ableSling was created by Josh Wintersgill, a wheelchair user with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Josh knew first-hand the problems faced by wheelchair users when travelling by plane and wanted to do something to make it easier.
That’s when he founded AbleMove and created a product that could become a game-changer for disabled travellers.
The ableSling is an award-winning in-situ transfer sling for hoists and manual transfers. Designed not only to facilitate transferring but also to function as an in-situ piece of equipment.
How Does the ableSling Work?
If you have used hoist slings, then you will be familiar with the look and idea of the ableSling. Instead of pieces of material being placed under and up through your legs like other slings, the ableSling is one whole seat.
It is placed in your wheelchair and you sit on top as you would with your regular wheelchair seat cushion.
ableSling has been designed so you can remain seated within it for the entire journey from your home to the airport, on/during/off the plane and until you reach your end destination or hotel.
It requires a minimum of two people to use and is incredibly straightforward because there is nothing to set up, attach or operate.
For example, since you are already seated in the ableSling, all the airport special assistance staff will have to do is hold onto the manual lifting handles and lift you across from one seat to the other. Simple. No touching or manhandling whatsoever.
Time isn’t spent getting a sling fitted under you (I’ve been there and it takes way too long and can be quite hands-on with strangers). With the ableSling, I find it quick and easy.
Features and Benefits of ableSling
There are many great features and benefits of the ableSling:
Various sizes available
The seat also comes in various sizes from small to extra-extra large. These are all priced the same – £299.99. Choose a size based on the measurements of your wheelchair seat base/cushion. There is a handy sizing chart on the ableMove website to help you select the correct size.
Insert your own wheelchair cushion or padding
I think it’s great that you have the option to insert your own wheelchair cushion into the easyTravelseat. When placing your order, you can also choose to add memory foam or gel pad insert for extra comfort.
The memory foam and gel pad are an additional cost, but if you can’t fit your own wheelchair cushion inside the easyTravelseat, then the memory foam or gel pad may be necessary for your comfort. The memory foam comes in 2” or 2.5” and 0.5” for the gel pad.
You can choose what works best for you. I have the foam and gel as I need as much padding as possible.
Update: This option, from what I understand, is no longer available. The ableSling has a compartment where you can insert your own cushion. Please contact the company for clarification.
Manual handle and hoist straps
The ableSling comes with eight manual handling straps, six looped hoist straps plus two extension straps. This allows the seat to be used with a hoist if required (whether that’s a hoist at home or in a Changing Places toilet – compatible with hook hoists). It’s incredibly versatile.
I think this is a great feature, especially for disabled people, like myself, who have a progressive disability and can still be transferred manually but will eventually require hoist transfers 100% of the time. They will not have to replace the seat as it already has the hoist straps. There are also pouches to hide the straps when not required.
A cool feature of the ableSling is the travel pouch where you can store your passports, phone, boarding passes, money and travel documents. This is a handy feature especially if you are like us and always misplacing the passports and boarding passes. We always think we have placed the passports in a specific section of our bag, but then when it comes to finding them it’s a nightmare and half the bag contents get emptied on the airport floor in search of them.
Since you remain seated in the ableSling while travelling in the car to the airport and on the aircraft, safety is very important. There are cut-out panels/slots on each side of the seat for your wheelchair seat belt and aircraft seat belt to slide through.
Safe and fast transfers
The ableSling can be used safely and quickly in emergencies. It is also more comfortable and dignified for the user. Other slings are usually removed once you’re on the aircraft, but you remain in the easyTravelseat, which means where you go, it goes.
If you need to be moved quickly, then it is possible to do that. It doesn’t have to be used by trained airport staff so it can literally be used by anyone who is able to hold onto the lifting handles. Again this would be good in emergency situations.
It’s yours – not the airport or airlines
Above all else, the ableSling is yours. It does not belong to the airport or airline. You don’t have to worry about relying on an airport to have suitable lifting equipment as you have your own wherever and whenever you travel.
How My Disability Impacts Me When I Travel
Due to my disability (Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy) I use a power wheelchair and cannot walk. I find the whole process of being transferred from my wheelchair to the aisle chair to the aircraft seat and then back again painful, frustrating, unsafe and undignified.
It can also be very embarrassing being manhandled from the aisle chair and placed into the aircraft seat. This can be particularly undignified when I’m denied pre-boarding and passengers are sitting watching the entire transfer process.
There have been times when it hasn’t gone smoothly including the special assistance staff struggling to lift me or my clothing riding up, which is embarrassing.
It is fantastic when we are met with experienced and caring special assistance staff. In my experience, it’s important to let them know how they can help you and if there is anywhere that hurts.
I require a fully supported lift to and from the seat on the plane. I can’t be lifted from under my arms and I have very weak trunk and neck control so I always have to communicate this to the special assistance staff.
There have been many times when I haven’t felt comfortable so my partner would transfer me himself. This hasn’t been ideal as there is never enough space on the plane for him to do this but sometimes it is the safer and easiest option at the time.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that now. Let me explain why.
My ableSling Experience
I’m always on the lookout for ways that make air travel easier and more comfortable. So when Josh contacted me about his brand new seat, I was excited and incredibly interested to know more.
Personally, I have a custom mould seat cushion for my wheelchair. This was made by NHS wheelchair services to fit my exact shape and provide the most support and comfort to reduce pressure.
As a result, my cushion has a very high depth and would fit in the ableSling. Therefore I chose to remain in my own cushion until just before boarding.
I always use the accessible toilet in departures just before boarding because I cannot use the toilet on board the plane. This is when we took my cushion off and put the ableSling on and it worked great for us.
I then remain in the ableSling until we arrive at the destination airport. Before leaving the airport, we went to the toilets and switched my cushion back. This is what worked best for me.
I loved the sheer ease of using the ableSling. We didn’t have to worry about explaining the best way to lift me, making sure they supported my head or didn’t pull my arms too hard. I felt safe and comfortable within the easyTravelseat which in turn made me feel confident with each transfer.
The special assistance staff also loved how easy the transfers were from using the seat and especially on/off the aircraft with its extremely tight spaces.
I reckon if you blinked you’d miss the transfer taking place as it felt that quick. It’s also discreet too. The ableSling practically blends in with your wheelchair and just looks like it’s part of your seat and backrest cushion.
From my partner’s perspective, using the ableSling made his life easier too. Usually, the whole process of travelling would be stressful for him as he had to do everything.
This included transferring me from my wheelchair into the aisle seat, then from the aisle seat into the aircraft seat then running back off the plane to disconnect and sort my wheelchair in preparation for it going into the aircraft hold.
It was a lot of pressure on one person.
Even if we felt confident in the special assistance staff being able to transfer me safely, my partner would still feel on edge and have to explain/show them how to lift me and was always close by in case something went wrong.
Now, he feels a lot more relaxed because the ableSling is taking care of all the transfers with pure ease.
Videos of ableSling in action
Here is a short video we filmed of my experience using the ableSling at various airports. And below is a video from ableSling demonstrating how to lift a passenger with the ableSling from their wheelchair, to an aisle chair and onboard the aircraft.
Where Can You Buy The ableSling?
You can own your own ableSling for £299.99 excl. VAT, which can be a significant price, but the benefits, convenience and freedom this seat gives is life-changing.
It is a one-off payment and it will last for years, allowing you to use it as often as you want. Great if you travel regularly.
You can purchase an ableSling directly at https://ablemove.co.uk/.
The ableSling is so versatile that it can be used for so many situations, not just travel. It can be used for most situations where you need to transfer in and out of your wheelchair. And great for times when there is no hoist and you need to come out of your chair:
- Going to the doctor/dentist or hospital appointment
- Going to the beach and want to sit on the sand or transfer to a beach wheelchair?
- Going sailing?
- There are so many options with the ableSling.
Using the ableSling has changed my experience of flying and has given me one less thing to worry about when travelling. We only wish it had been invented years ago.
The thing I love most about this seat is the fact it can be used for many different situations when you need to come out of your wheelchair. Not just when travelling by plane.
I’m looking forward to using it every time I travel by plane, but also for other situations too.
If you feel that the ableSling would suit your needs and make transferring in and out of your wheelchair easier, then I recommend you check it out.
Disclaimer: I received the ableSling for free in exchange for my honest opinion on the product. As always my reviews are completely truthful and all opinions are my own.