Air Travel in the 21st Century: The Confronting Truth

G’day friends and welcome to another week and another blog!!

If you watch the news, you would have seen that there have been numerous disabled people speaking out about air travel and their treatment from airlines and airports.

Not many people have those experiences, and its often assumed that airport experiences are the same all way round, and the instances of wheelchair damage or discrimination are one in a million. However my friends that isn’t even close to the truth.

So I thought I would share my experiences of air travel, and have a little chat about what is going on in the media at the moment show just how different but also how challenging air travel actually is.

Let’s get cracking shall we?

Air travel: My experience

arrival and departure gates at an airport. the beginning of air travel in my opinion
Photo by Darcy Lawrey:

I don’t do much flying. I am a super nervous flyer. I have put that down to watching too much Air Crash Investigations when I was growing up!

However, that doesn’t mean to say I have never experienced the panic of turbulence! I have flown once to Sydney and once overseas.

I was very lucky that I was young when I went on those trips so what I required in terms of assistance wasn’t too great compared to others.

However, for my trip to Sydney, I decided to take my wheelchair with me. It was easier than hiring out a chair when I got there, and i was assured no face planting at the airport. I was only 12 at the time, so my parents had to arrange and fill in all the necessary paperwork for my wheelchair. From what they have told me it was a lot of paperwork and very in-depth. Got to love paperwork!

At the airport, thanks to not being able to go through the metal detectors due to being in my chair, I had to get pat down going through security. The security team asked me if i wanted to go into a private room or have the pat down done right next to the metal detectors in prime view of everyone. I had nothing to hide and so I told them I would have it done right out in the middle of the checkpoint.

My thought process at the time was that people would think I had something to hide by going to the room, and wouldn’t think anything of it if I had it done where everyone could see. How wrong I was. I still got some glares and stares as people went through security which made me feel super uncomfortable, and I am sure I was as red as a stop sign out of embarrassment.

So perhaps from now on the private room will be the way to go! Should I ever get over my fear of flying that is!

I was incredibly lucky to fly with Virgin. I am also fortunate to say that I had not one bad experience with them. They allowed me to keep my Wheelchair with me till I got to the gate, was given priority boarding, and they had my Wheelchair waiting for me at the gate when we landed!

The flight attendants and staff were all so incredibly nice and went above and beyond to make sure everything was in place.

The best part was, my wheelchair was not damaged at all! Well I think it would be incredibly difficult to damage a manual chair…. However there is a first for everything I am sure!

Not everyone is so lucky

people loading onto a plane that is sitting on the runway. the sun is setting behind them
Photo by Anugrah Lohiya:

Even though my story is positive, there are plenty of people who aren’t so lucky.

Mobility equipment is damaged, costing thousands of dollars in repair. There is also the major issue of the owner of the chair is not able to participate in society. A ruined chair is like breaking your legs.

People have even died as a result of damaged mobility aids leaving the person unable to distribute their weight properly, leading to pressure sores that got infected.

Discrimination is also a big topic in air travel. People have been told they can fly but they must leave their wheelchair at the airport and it is not coming with them on their journey. So to use the leg analogy again, its like telling you that you can fly but you have to leave your legs in the car. Yeah doesn’t quiet work does it?

What this all comes down to is lack of training, education and equipment available to promote equal access to air travel.

No one should have to worry about their safety when in airports or on planes… well not more than the normal amount of worry when flying anyway.

We can do so much better, and need to to so much better, to improve air travel for disabled patrons and also airlines. If there is adequate regulations, systems, equipment and training in place, I believe their would be fewer incidents of disability discrimination and damage to mobility devices.

This is just one of the many areas that need improving in society when it comes to disability awareness and inclusivity. It is going to take a mammoth effort to reduce the amount of discrimination happening across the board. But I have faith that one day we will get there.

Till next week,

Rhi xo

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