When flying becomes a reality

While we are coming to the end of the summer holiday season, two young men are thinking about their summer holidays in 2016. We all like to plan ahead for our holidays, but for those with physical impairments holidays that involve flying can seem like an impossible dream.

A few days ago I had the pleasure in accompanying two teenagers and their mum at the Virgin Atlantic Airways base near Gatwick airport. The trip was planned because they had concerns about how they would be able to fly now that they were growing into young men and can no longer be carried by their mum and dad on to the plane. The boys both have mobility impairments and one of them is unable to support his upper body.

We spent two hours in a built to size mock-up aeroplane with the airline’s Passenger Accessibility Manager who showed, demonstrated and let us try out the travel systems available. Then one of the young men tried the wheelchair used by Virgin Atlantic that can fit through the aisles, while his brother was positioned in the aeroplane seat by a Burnett Body System and a Crelling harness. Children also have use of a Meru chair and, in some cases, the wheelchair frame can be used on top of the seat (this wasn't an option for us as the seat was tilted too far forward). We also learned really useful information about when to contact airlines about the needs of the person (as soon as possible) and that is it essential to make contact with the airport special assistance team as soon as you reach the airport because they have ‘service providers’ who assist with lifting and handling people and equipment on board.

The young men and their mother left with much more confidence knowing that their dream of flying is now a reality with the knowledge of what equipment and support airlines and airports can offer disabled passengers. We also learned how motivated and enthusiastic some airlines (big thanks to Virgin Atlantic) are in making sure everyone has the chance to fly and do those ordinary things we all take for granted.

So, here’s a few things that we learned that others may also find useful:

• Taking your wheelchair on the plane

You can’t take your own wheelchair into the passenger cabin of a plane. It will be stored in the hold of the plane. Speak to your airline to find out what help they’ll provide when boarding the plane.

• Travel systems

The Burnett Body Support is a large cushion filled with polystyrene beads designed to offer adapted seating support. A pump is attached and the air evacuated, enabling the cushion to mould perfectly to the shape of the person seated in it, offering comfort and support where it is most needed. When air is reintroduced, the cushion returns to its natural shape once again.

The Crelling harness ‘model 27’ is approved for aircraft use. It is a full 5 point harness designed to offer additional support in single seats and aircraft seats. Three sizes are available depending on the age of the passenger.

MERU travel chairs are postural seat inserts which support children who cannot sit independently.

Try b4u fly  a service that provides adults and children with the unique opportunity to trial specially designed aircraft seating support for children, young people and adults with disabilities for use on airlines. They also have a hire service so people can practise using the equipment ahead of the flight.

• Your rights

Under European law, disabled people and other people with reduced mobility have legal rights to help when travelling by air. There is detailed information about this on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) website