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Protecting the wheelchair during air travel

With another story of a wheelchair getting damaged in transit with an airline we look in to what else can be done to minimise the risk of this happening to you and your wheelchair.

Last week Andy Lathams custom wheelchair was damaged beyond repair by handling agent Swissport who operate in many airports in the UK. Its not clear what happened to the wheelchair only that it was left in such a bad state that it was not usable and this was at the start of his holiday with his wife.

The self propelled wheelchair was loaded on to the Ryan air plane in a folded state and somehow during the loading process it contacted with the aircraft and caused damage to the airplane also leaving it unfit to fly and causing all passenger to have to leave that aircraft.

Andy who was left partly paralysed following a brain hemorrhage is dependent on his wheelchair for most of the day. Once disembarking it was clearly evident that the wheelchair had received a series of heavy knocks that had caused one wheel and the frame to become badly bent.

If you are planning a trip soon and fear that your wheelchair may become damaged then there are a few basic steps that you can take to best protect your valuable wheelchair from unnecessary damage. The first one is to buy and use a bag that is designed for the transportation of wheelchairs. Check that the wheelchair bag has a modicum of padding in all areas including the base where it will rest on the ground but also the side panels which will contain the wheelchair.

In order to reduce damage to the wheelchair it is best remove all components from the frame so that they too can be placed in the bag and do not protrude which will help to prevent them from being broken. So, wheels, footrests and headrests off and placed to one side. next fold the wheelchair and once folded use the clip (if supplied) to secure the wheelchair in the folded position. If your model doesn’t have a clip then a short bungee elastic is useful to maintain the chair in the folded position. By doing this you are removing the stress on the hinges and joints of the wheelchair frame. Finally, place the removable components in to the pockets in the wheelchair bag and ensure that no parts are sticking out or particularly in to the wheels or spokes.

We also advise that wheelchair tyres are part deflated if it is due to be put in the hold. We have heard of examples of tyre pressure causing the tyres to burst when the pressure adjusts. This can be prevented by reducing that pressure but of course mans that you will need to carry a suitable wheelchair pump to ensure you can increase the pressure once you have landed.

If you use a wheelchair cushion then we recommend taking an extra inflatable cushion which can be deflated and packed away with ease. If your main cushion is lost then you can use the inflatable wheelchair cushion and it can also come in handy during the flight itself.

Finally we have found it a good idea to wear compression socks during the flight. As a wheelchair user your lower limbs may encounter poor circulation and the wearing of these socks is good for preventing leg swelling and helps the body to stay warm in colder weather.