Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Now imagine I am sitting next to you. I was already on the plane when you boarded, in my seat, bags stowed. What you won’t know is that I have extra “baggage”. My wheelchair was the last item to go into the hold and will be the first item out. When we land, you’ll disembark while I’ll remain in my seat. Once everyone else has disembarked, my wheelchair will be brought to the cabin door and the crew will use a narrow aisle version to assist me off the aircraft.
Of course, my wheelchair is more than just luggage. It’s made to measure, so if it goes missing, it’s more than an inconvenience. It’s like arriving at your destination, only to discover you have been accidentally handcuffed to a block of concrete during the flight. The airport authorities load the concrete block into a shopping trolley so it can be pushed around with you for a few days while they try and find the keys to the handcuffs.
Thankfully, most airlines now recognise the importance of specialist mobility equipment. But it wasn’t always the case. I used to have to insist that I stayed in my chair rather than check it in with my suitcase. Now, remaining in my personal wheelchair right up to the aircraft is considered unremarkable, and misplaced or broken wheelchairs are the exception rather than the rule.
Although I was based in the UK, I have always enjoyed travel – visiting cities across Asia. I married an Australian, which meant plenty of shuttling between the UK and Down Under, where her family is. Then, in 2005, I suffered a spinal cord injury and have been a wheelchair user ever since. Apart from navigating airports and airlines, I now have to email hotels with all kinds of questions. If the staff is not prepared to measure door widths or ensure there is a shower seat, I’ll take my business elsewhere.
Thankfully, the larger hotel chains are moving towards better facilities for people with disabilities and I’m sure there’ll be more breakthroughs in travel for the mobility impaired. Perhaps it’s time someone looked at the design of aircraft for the next big breakthrough. Then I wouldn’t have to leave my wheelchair at all.
3 hotels with good accessibility
1. Novotel Samator Surabaya Timur Hotel, Indonesia
As with most of the Accor Group hotels, Novotel offers fully wheelchair-accessible rooms as well as accessible bathrooms.
2. PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay, Singapore
Great central location, easy access to many attractions around the bay, with good step-free footpaths throughout the area.
Illustration by Lexin Wong
SEE ALSO: Top safety tips for travelling alone
This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of Silkwinds magazine