Flying with a disabled child
Air travel with children can be taxing at the best of times, even more so with a disabled child.
Over the last few years we have travelled on 6 different airlines. We have been frustrated by some and pleasantly surprised by others. The service and attention to our passenger requests have been varied.
We are still able to carry Nura (not for much longer though as she is just about 20kg) so we usually request permission to push her in her stroller up the ramp and to the door of the plane. I then carry her to her seat while the stroller is folded and stowed in the hold. On landing the stroller is brought to us again at the door of the plane as we disembark. The ground staff at check-in seem to understand this and assure us we can do this and the stroller will be returned on landing to the door.

Of course once we get to the plane the crew on board have another story. And so we have learnt the different policies and regulations of various airlines.

All the niggly regulations have resulted in some interesting experiences. On board a flight from Cape Town to OR Tambo International in June 2009 we were told to disembark due to technical problems. The shuttle collected us at the plane but of course the stroller was not taken out of the hold. I had to walk from the arrivals hall back to the departure hall, carrying Nura, while my husband dealt with the luggage, and then the search commenced for the stroller.

Arriving in Turkey, the stroller was given to us at the door which made the almost 2 hour wait at immigration easier.

But then last year we had no such luck. All the airlines we flew with allowed us to push her to the door but we had to get a wheelchair on arrival at our destination. As Nura is unable to sit on her own I had to sit in the wheelchair with her on my lap. We won’t talk about my weight, but suffice to say I was very sorry for the guy pushing the chair with both of us in it and a backpack resting on my feet.

On arrival at Cape Town International last year we waited for the wheelchair which arrived with a porter who pushed us into the passenger assist vehicle, which is controlled by a driver, who drove us to the terminal building where a different porter took over and pushed us to the immigration counter. So it took 3 people to get us off the plane – if they had given us the stroller at the door, only the guy unpacking the hold would have been involved.

So we have learnt to request the passenger assist service and to give the airline as much information as possible beforehand. They do have our safety in mind after all.

Finally, a thumbs up to OR Tambo International which boasts a separate counter for disabled persons, as not all airports are as considerate.

Have you travelled with a disabled family member? How was the experience?

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