A long-haul flight as a wheelchair user can be difficult to manage, but that shouldn’t discourage you. Once you arrive at your destination you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. In other words, it’s completely worth it! However, before you book your flights you might be wondering how you’d manage those particularly long flights. I want to share my tips on how to survive a long-haul flight as a wheelchair user.
#1: Special assistance
When booking your flight request any special assistance you will require or at least 48 hours before your flight. Do you need an escort from check-in, help through security and into the departure lounge, help at the boarding gate, assistance onto the plane and to your seat? Check if Eagle Lifter (shown in the image below) is available at the airports you’ll travel to and from. Bulkhead seats on the plane provide extra legroom which helps when transferring from the aisle chair to your aircraft seat and space to stretch your legs. The airline should allocate a suitable seat for you and your travel companion free of charge. These seats should generally have movable armrests to make transferring easier. Always double check that you are allocated suitable seats.
#2: Wear comfy clothes
Comfortable and loose fitting clothes are the way to go for any flight but particularly long haul. You want to be as comfortable as possible when you’re sitting for such long periods of time. It can also feel pretty cold during a flight so remember to bring layers that you can put on to keep warm. Even if you don’t wear them they can be used for extra support at your sides or to lean your head against. (P.S I’m always tempted to take my slippers to wear on the flight).
#3: Relax before your flight
I know this can be difficult to achieve since airports and holidays can be stressful and challenging at times especially travelling as a wheelchair user or with a disability. I’m a firm believer that stress can play havoc with our bodies and lead to feeling unwell and other unnecessary problems. It’s best to relax as much as possible before your flight. Give yourself plenty of time and arrive early. Enjoy a nice meal, browse the shops and watch the world go by, just don’t lose track of time and miss your flight.
#4: Bring your own wheelchair cushion
Aircraft seats are extremely uncomfortable and even worse if you can’t move or change position to ease discomfort. By sitting on your own wheelchair cushion you’ll prevent painful pressure sores from occurring.
#5: Sweet dreams
If you’re like me, sleeping on planes is almost an impossible task. I envy those people that fall asleep before the plane has even taken off and remain fast asleep for the duration of the flight. Why can’t that be me?
Anyway, the following items come in handy:
- Travel pillow will make all the difference and help you to relax without suffering from awful neck pain. My disability means I need to have good neck support so by having a travel pillow that gives full support and keeps my neck in a nice position while resting or (trying) to sleep is essential.
- Eye masks are great for helping you sleep during daytime flights. They are also useful to block out any annoying cabin lights during night-time flights, giving you complete darkness to enjoy your forty winks. Eye masks are also good at blocking out any distractions that might keep you awake such as other passengers walking by or the cabin crew working nearby.
- A blanket will keep you cosy when the temperature drops. There’s nothing worse than feeling cold when you’re trying to sleep. You’ll usually be given a blanket on your flight, but you can always take your own if you have space in your carry-on luggage. Again, this can be used for extra support or padding to make you more comfortable.
- Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs will drown out all the distractions and background noise. Aircraft noises, overhead lockers slamming shut, screaming babies, snoring passengers are annoyances you want to eliminate for that precious sleep time.
#6: Travel socks
Being inactive for long periods of time increases the risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) especially during long-haul flights. Travel socks increase blood flow which prevents fluid build-up that can occur in your ankles and legs. My disability means I’m at risk because I can’t stand so I was advised by my GP to take an aspirin before long-haul flights to help prevent blood clots. I’d recommend speaking to your own GP before taking an aspirin to ensure it’s safe for you to do so. During long-haul flights, my travel companion will help me move my legs by doing gentle leg and ankle stretches. Any movement is good no matter how small it is.
#7: Stay healthy
Let’s be honest, aircraft’s aren’t the cleanest and there’s a higher chance of catching a cold or flu after a flight. Many people believe that poor air quality or recycled air within the aircraft is to blame. Whereas in fact, it is due to our body’s inability to deal with normal bacteria and fight off viruses after being up in the air. Having a cold or even worse, the flu, can be extremely difficult for me to manage and it takes longer to recover from. I like to take precautions and limit my exposure to bacteria and germs as much as possible by having anti-bacterial wipes and hand gel with me at all times. I’ll make sure the tray table, seat and seatbelt are wiped down and my hands are always clean.
#8: Stay hydrated
It’s important to stay hydrated during long-haul flights. The downside to staying hydrated is needing to use the aircraft’s toilet, which can be a
challenge nightmare for wheelchair users or someone with limited mobility. I personally choose to limit my fluid intake during a flight and wait to use the toilet in the airport. I must stress that I don’t recommend this method, but it’s important that you make the right decision that is safe and comfortable for you. If you need to use the aircraft toilet you’ll be able to use the onboard aisle chair with assistance from the cabin crew.
#9: Be productive and entertained
You’re going to be sitting in the same spot for a long time, so it’s best to make the most of it. It could be a good idea to divide up the flight journey with different tasks. Eating, sleeping, movie-watching, working on your laptop, reading, playing games, listening to music, writing etc. You’ll be surprised by how much time flies by when you are focussed on one task at a time. Make sure you charge up your phone, tablet, laptop or other devices. Try not to clock-watch or stare at the in-flight map too often.
#10: Carry-on luggage
Travelling with a disability often feels like we’re packing everything but the kitchen sink. There are so many essential things that we just can’t travel without. It’s important to pack sensibly and have everything in its right place. Plan what items can be put in your hold luggage and what items you need during the flight in your carry-on, such as medication. There isn’t usually a lot of space on planes, so it’s best knowing actually where everything is in your carry-on as it makes it easier for you to find what you’re looking for or if someone is doing it for you.
I hope these tips on how to survive a long-haul flight as a wheelchair user help when you next take to the sky. I’d love to hear from you and know what your tips are when travelling by plane. You may also want to check out my tips for wheelchair accessible travel.
Main photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash