As a Power Chair-User That Flies, I’ve Learnt My Lesson: Print Out Your Own “Be Careful” Signs

“Be very careful with this wheelchair! You are handling a $15,000 piece of equipment. Any damages will be considering grievous and handled by my lawyer. HANDLE WITH CARE!”

That’s the sign (one of them), that now goes on my chair each time I fly. You see, I’ve learnt my lesson the two times I’ve flown this year (the first time was to L.A. in June for a Christopher Reeve Foundation event, the second time was for a weekend getaway to Las Vegas in late July): When flying (or with Sun Country Airlines, at least) you simply must print out your own “Handle with care” signs and tape them all over your chair before handing over this very important piece of medical equipment to the lions (and believe me, they are lions). Each time I’ve flown this year the irresponsible luggage handlers (the guys outside who haul your 300+lb wheelchair in and out the belly of the plane), have severely broken my chair.

This is an extremely maddening experience. The first time around they pulled too hard on the harness (aka “the big fat cord”) that connects my joystick to the computer chip that runs the chair. I literally got stuck in the elevator at my posh L.A. hotel and went up 14 stories, unable to exit the elevator, as my chair broke down. When I flew to Vegas, it was my beloved elevator seat that got shat on. They somehow while lifting the chair up, hit the box UNDERNEATH my chair that runs the elevator seat (a $7,500 piece of equipment), making in unfixable. For the Vegas trip, I printed out 3 signs and taped them onto my joystick, my backrest, and behind the backrest; all in the effort to let the handlers know that this wasn’t just another piece of equipment they could toss around.

So when I fly next week, wish me luck! I’m going to print out double the amount of signs with the font extra bolded, just to be sure they’re more than extra-careful with my precious wheels. These are my legs people! I mean, for serious…

  1. 2 years ago we flew to San Diego and American lost my cushion and 1 armrest. Now I take them carry on (I sit on the cushion its way better than the airline coach seat!)

  2. lost a cushion?? did they reimburse you at least?

  3. They did but it took forever and I could live without armrests but it sucks trying to replace a cushion on a 4 day vacation!

  4. I am getting closer to funding for our airline for people in chairs! Hopefully in 2010, you won’t have to worry about flying with chairs anymore!


  5. Not my field of expertise, but William “Bad Cripple” Peace posted this article on an uneventful flight with a budget airline (Jet Blue).

  6. Also, Victoria Brignell posted this on her New Statesman column in 2007, about how she simply doesn’t fly for much the same reason. But actually, airlines are shockingly bad at maintaining the integrity of anything other than a suitcase full of clothes – musical instruments are a common casualty of sloppy handling. I can understand why they can’t take a hard-shell guitar case on a plane, but if London Transport can sacrifice the space for a couple of seats on every bus with a capacity of 75 for a wheelchair, surely an airline can do the same on a plane where the capacity is several times that.

  7. I am so sorry to hear that you have had so many travel wheelchair problems. I guess I have been lucky, knock on wood, quick. I have traveled to Puerto Rico (11 Carib cruise), Australia, Florida, Arizona, New Orleans (twice) etc. You get the picture. My chair has always made it through. Needed a little cable adjustment sometimes but my trusty Jazzy is a virtual tank. I LOVE the ability to travel as a T7 Para and have always been treated well by the airlines. A little wink, wink, nod, nod seems to do the trick with the guys that are lifting me and taking care of my equipment.

  8. Fantastic information. Wish I could find more info like this by others! good job, thanks a lot!

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