Adventures of flying…as a wheelchair user

I’ve been meaning to write about my airport and flying experiences for a while, but every time I think about it I realize I only have bad things to say. In an effort to share the facts and some funny, yet frustrating stories, I’ll do my best to not spiral into a rage filled post.
Arrival at the check-in desk

I could most certainly write a book about this experience alone. Checking-in for a flight has one big perk – I get to go through the First Class or Priority Fancy Bullshit Star line. If you have traveled with me you also know that this is a great start to the perks of flying with someone in a wheelchair. Prior to arriving to the airport I normally note my requests and needs online when booking or checking-in. Despite this prior effort, I still must inform the staff that I will need help all the way to my seat. Sometimes these conversations go as follows:

Me; I need assistance all the way to my seat on the plane.

Staff: So, you can’t climb stairs?

Me: No

Staff: OK, so you will need the aisle chair? And will need transferred?

Me: yes!!

Staff (if I’m traveling in Asia): Why can’t you walk? Are you sure you can’t walk just a little bit? Will you please sign this paper that proves you are mentally sane and not going to cause chaos?

Most questions are really just to cover the airlines butt. I’ve found that in Asian countries (India and Vietnam for example) they are concerned with if I should medically be able to travel. They have a hard time understanding that this is a disability from birth and I don’t need a doctor’s notice. I’ve learned a lot about cultural differences and disability just from check-in counters. Unlike in America or Europe, some lesser developed countries aren’t used to individuals with disabilities flying and not being able to walk at all.

After check-in an airport assistance staff comes to escort me through security to the gate. More perks!! I get to skip the security line! Getting the airport early is often necessary because of long security lines. When you travel with me, this isn’t an issue. I often have to remind people that it’s OK if we don’t get to the airport 2 hours early because we get to skip all the lines!

When it comes to security, the perks stop with line skipping. As I can’t walk through the metal detector, I am subject to a full body pat down. Recently, because of the increased security across the USA and Europe, this process is very thorough…and annoying. I get it…security is important, but I’m surprised they don’t have an alternative method. I try to avoid looking too frustrated, but it’s inevitable. Interestingly, this process is not consistent in every country. Some security staff give me little more than a once look-over – you’d again find this in Asia. My most intriguing moment was in Oslo when I was patted down by a man. He asked if it was OK if he could do it or if I requested a female staff. I agreed that he was fine because he’s doing his job! He probably does this hundreds of times a day and how cool is it that gender doesn’t have to be a thing involved.


Now comes the fun part. I often get to board the plane first, which is nice. Since planes have not evolved (like every other form of transport) I have to transfer to a skinny chair that takes me to my seat. I am able to transfer myself, but I know it must be very difficult for those who can’t. Again, because of safety I’m lucky enough to be strapped in, straight jacket style. The photo with the woman pulling the chair was taken in 2008 – the other photo in 2017. So…10 years later and they still have the same process. I guess you could say my look of annoyance has stayed the same. My wheelchair is then taken under the plane with other baggage.



I have grown to really take advantage of this extra assistance service. The staff push me from one gate to the other, through passport controls and even secret back ways. I will be the first to admit – I never pay attention where we are going. It’s like being a passenger in a car, I don’t remember all the directions and turns. Similarly I gaze at the stores or offer small talk to my pusher. It is quite nice to not have to worry about where the next gate is located.

The worst part about flying is that I’m unable to get up and move around on the plane. For long haul flights, this becomes rather uncomfortable. Thankfully, airlines have these aisle chairs on board if one needs to use the toilet.

Unfortunately, I am always the last one off the plane. I get off the plane the same way as I got on. The problem comes when I must wait for an excessive amount of time because the ground crew are too busy. You can imagine that this makes me mad, but also the flight crew. I could crawl, but that may cause a media nightmare. Instead I wait and patiently mind draft my strongly worded letter to the airline about compensation. In addition to waiting, anxiety sets in as I wonder – “Did they remember to put my chair on the plane? What if they forgot it? What if it’s broken?” Not until I see the shiny silver spokes all intact do I breathe a sigh of relief that I have successfully ‘arrived.’

If I must go through passport control, I also get to skip the line. No complaints here!

I wish I had some more funny stories, but sometimes you just have to be there. At the end of the day, it’s all worth if it means I get to explore a new city or country! With that said, if anyone wants some line-skipping perks, let’s do some traveling!!

7 thoughts on “Adventures of flying…as a wheelchair user

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