This summer, I took two round-trip flights across the country with my Quantum Power Wheelchair. In late July, I flew with my mom to Washington, D.C., and back. In mid-August, we flew to Albany, N.Y., and back, changing planes in Chicago. The July trip was the first time I ever flew with a power wheelchair, so I was pretty nervous. I was handing over an assistive device that, every day, allows me to be a part of the community. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how absurd it is to leave something like a wheelchair in the hands of complete strangers. I decided to be as proactive as possible to make sure my chair wasn’t lost or damaged, and I wasn’t left somewhere stranded without a wheelchair.
Preparing My Quantum Power Wheelchair for Flights
For each flight, we arrived at the airport very early so I could try and talk to the person who would be handling my Stretto Power Chair. I also insisted on keeping my wheelchair until I was ready to board the plane. Before each flight, I wrapped my joystick in bubble wrap and attached a laminated instruction sheet to my wheelchair. I also removed the neck rest and other detachable items that could be lost or broken and carried them on the plane with me. Even after doing all this, it wasn’t enough.
Dealing with Wheelchair Damage and the Stress of Flying
On my trip to Albany, I almost missed my connection because the airline crew couldn’t figure out how to get my Quantum Power Wheelchair to me. Waiting at the window watching the ground crew manhandle my chair was horrible. When I finally received my chair, the joystick arm was dangling off the side, and several external parts were damaged beyond repair.
In D.C., the crew demanded to take my chair at the gate, not at the bottom of the jetway, and said they’d bring me an airport chair while I waited to board. It turned out there were no airport chairs left. All the seats were taken near the gate and my legs gave out. Quite frankly, it gets tiresome constantly worrying about all the things that often go wrong.
What would I do if someone damages my wheelchair beyond repair? What if the agents at my destination can’t figure out how to bring my chair down to me without wrecking it? What if it takes them so long that I miss my connecting flight or my checked bag goes missing because I took so long to get to baggage claim? (this almost happened in D.C.) Will my chair be brought to the gate or the jetway? Does this airline do something differently than the last airline I flew with? Will I be forced to wait hours in a long line to report damage to my wheelchair when I finally reach my destination, like I had to do in Albany? I don’t want to worry about these things!
The Future of Wheelchair Users and Flying
I want to trust the airlines with equipment that is so essential to my mobility. If there was a way to board the airplane with my wheelchair and use it as my seat on that flight, this would solve so many of these problems. In case you weren’t already aware, Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, is trying to write new rules to make something like this possible. There are many things that are still uncertain about how this would work, but it’s a great goal. Maybe someday I can participate in the design process or even give some constructive feedback. I sure have a lot of ideas!
About Maddie Kasten: Maddie is a Q Roll Model for Quantum Rehab. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and enjoys participating in adaptive sports, playing video games and watching anime. Click here to learn more about Maddie.
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