Every time I contemplate having to travel by airline with my son's wheelchair I just cringe at the strong likelihood of damages.
And that my friends isn't great odds.
So what helped us score a completely successful wheelchair damage free trip? Check out these 7 tips that helped us ensure a safe wheelchair departure and arrival.
1) Take Your Accessories With You
If your child's wheelchair has any accessories that are removable take them off and board the plane with them.
This means a detachable sunshade, a soft undercarriage storage, a cooling or heating pad, a removable footplate cushion, or a wheelchair rain guard.
Anything that could easily be detachable or come off, take a bag with you and stuff it in there and throw it in carry-on storage.
And these accessories generally aren't easy or inexpensive to replace and are generally much needed for your child's comfort and safety in their wheelchair.
2) Don't Fold It Down
This tip took me multiple trips to learn. Even if your child's wheelchair has the potential to collapse, fold or be broken down into two pieces (the base and the chair)... don't do it. I repeat don't do it.
If you tell the gate attendants that this is as good as it gets and they can't collapse it in any way - you just increased your wheelchair's chances of survival by more than 80 percent.
No other luggage will be placed on top of it, they can't stack or drag it.
While airlines will of course prefer you to fold it or make it compact in any way possible - you are no way obligated to disclose that your child's wheelchair has that potential or ability.
So leave it just like it is - upright.
3) Discuss Past Damage
Remind the airline and gate attendants that you had past damage experiences and are really hopeful that this time they'll get it right.
Don't be shy, casually drop dollar figures like yeah it cost the airlines $8,000 last time to replace the whole thing because you bent the frame.
Make sure they understand the gravity of how precious and how expensive of a piece of equipment your child's wheelchair really is.
And it's okay to take slight pleasure in the shock you will see in their faces.
Be hopeful, and tell them that you've really got your fingers crossed this time that it will remain damage free.
4) Get a Pre-Board Inspection
Not all airlines do this as standard protocol so make sure if you are flying an airline that doesn't have a standard inspection of the wheelchair that you ask for one.
This is where the airline attendant will look over the wheelchair and notate any pre-existing damage or problems with the wheelchair so they can document if damage occurred during flight.
Make sure they know the great condition your child's wheelchair was in prior to trusting them with it.
Generally this results in simple paperwork that you'll carry with you.
5) Tag It!
Most airlines are great about tagging wheelchairs at the gate.
They'll tag it and give you a claim receipt so in case for some reason the wheelchair gets separated from you and/or lost that you have something to try to track it down with.
Some airlines get distracted and will fail to tag it, or in many cases they depend upon you to tag it yourself with tags that simply are available at the counter.
6) Give a Quick 101
Wheelchairs are generally foreign items for airplane and gate staff. Don't forget to give them a quick 101 on how your child's wheelchair works.
Show them the breaks and how to lock and unlock it.
The last thing you want is for them not to know how to drive it or lock the breaks and have it drug up to the gate with a multitude of mishandling damages.
7) Fold it In & Grab Those Tools
If your child's wheelchair has any swing away laterals or footplates, make sure you fold all features in.
This will help insure that none of those features are bent or are injured during flight. There is nothing worse than realizing that the airline has bent an accessory that you lack the ability to easily fix.
Likewise make sure you travel with the wheelchair's Allen Wrench kit so that if you need to make adjustments during travel you can easily do so.
And after you get all those pre-jitter worries set aside about your child's wheelchair remember to just relax and have a great time getting to and from your destination.
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