The Complete Inaccessibility Of Airlines & Airports Part 2 😥 🛫🛂
In part 2 Peta walks you through (pardon the pun) the process of check-in, security checks and boarding the aeroplane when you have a disability.
Let's say it isn't the most straightforward process.
The website: www.icantstandpodcast.com
The episode referenced: The Hidden Disabilities Episode
References for this episode
Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peter. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. If you do have a question, don't forget you can contact me via Instagram. My handle is @petahooke via email firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website icantstandpodcast.com. This is part two of airlines and airports. And while last week was a very long rant about the need for toilets on aircrafts and going into the legal perspective of why there is so much discrimination within the industry and how they get away with it. This week is a more holistic viewpoint of the entire process of getting on an aircraft and engaging with the industry. Let's get into part two.
[00:01:18] Now, regardless of where you live, the process of getting to an airport can be pretty stressful at the best of times. If you have a disability, it's even more complicated. Relying on transport and access to transport can be really difficult even finding a disabled car park when you arrive. All added stresses to the whole process that is travelling. But I'm going to assume you've arrived safely. I'm going to assume that your taxi arrived on time or your transport arrived on time and nothing went wrong. So you walk. I'm going to say walk for the sake of this conversation. I even say walk in regard to talking about myself, even though I clearly don't walk. I will with my wheelchair. But you walk into the departures terminal. It can be quite overwhelming process and I can only imagine what it would be like for people with sensory processing disorders. Airports are busy and stressful. Now. I've never been able to use those self-serve check in kiosks. They're not accessible to me as somebody with an electric wheelchair. I have to speak to a physical person and check in at the desk. Something that I never considered. I actually saw this on Tik Tok. Those queuing balustrades or separators that create a queue. You know, the ones with the black belts that can be expanded. I hope you know what I mean. For somebody with vision impairment, they have no way of detecting that. They're actually there. Because the kind of the system always stays on the ground. And service animals aren't necessarily trained to be able to guide their owner around them. So that's a barrier before we even start.
[00:03:26] You get up to the service counter. And for me, with a physical disability and an electric wheelchair, this next process can be quite stressful. I always fly with Qantas. They have a file on me, which sounds very odd. But they do. And at least my wheelchair details the heaviness of my wheelchair, the type of battery it has, etc.. Now, despite my details being on file, I still have to carry documentation with me that lists that my specifics of my wheelchair. It can't be via email or soft. I have to physically be able to pass it to someone. But that's assuming they can actually physically pass it to someone because as you know, many of those desks are very high and are designed for someone to engage with the customer service officer at Standing Hind. I personally have never experienced a service desk at seated height that would enable me to talk to someone at eye level. So I pass over my documentation, even if it is quite a reach. We discussed the fact that, yes, I have an electric wheelchair. And yes, I have people travelling with me because I'm not legally allowed. I think it's an airline policy and I'm pretty sure it's fairly widespread that somebody who is unable to walk and transfer are not allowed to travel by themselves. Please let me know if I'm incorrect. But that is my understanding. Because of that requirement, I've only ever travelled with my parents. So my dad normally talks to the customer service officer because frankly, the customer service officer can easily see my father's face because my dad's standing. My dad explains that, yes, we undo the wheelchair, we undo the battery. It's completely safe. We understand the regulations. The batteries are typed up if they need to be typed up. And yes, we take off my hand controls on my wheelchair or my controller that allows me to drive my wheelchair and that thing goes into my hand luggage. The next big thing that we have to try and communicate with the customer service officer is the fact that I can't physically transfer. The reason why I have to share that sort of information with the customer service officer is I need something called an eagle hoist now. An Eagle hoist. I'm going to post a video on my Instagram. It's a manual handling hoist that allows a passenger to be lifted in this hoist from a chair or a wheelchair onto the aeroplane and down into their seat on the aircraft.
[00:06:35] The Invention of an Eagle hoist has been pretty life changing to me because previous to that invention, my father used to manually lift me onto an aircraft. Something that was difficult even at the time, but something that would now be pretty impossible now that I'm a grown woman and my dad is now getting older. So we have to arrange for the eagle hoist with the customer service officer at the check in desk. Many times the customer service officer has never checked in. Somebody with a disability has never checked in an electric wheelchair and doesn't know what an ankle hoist is. Not everyone, of course, but this has been a common occurrence. The other thing that we all have to keep in mind is because of my requirement of an ankle hoist, I can only sit in two areas of the plane. There are two seats, one in business and one in economy, that allow for a disabled person to be transferred by any go hoist onto a seat. I just want to say that I've been quite struck with the lack of information that I have found in regards to ego wise and their availability. There was no information on the Melbourne Airport website that I could find at least. And when I was planning my 30th birthday trip, which didn't happen because of COVID. I found myself calling places in Europe in the middle of the night because I couldn't physically find any information. So I was trying to speak to an actual person over the phone. The lack of an ACE team formation really illustrates to me that many people who run airports do not understand the sort of information people with disabilities require. To me, if you have a service, you should have it listed on your website. I would really encourage you to try and keep your mobility with you throughout this process for as long as possible.
Not having your mobility aid can be really disheartening, unsettling, unsafe and of course, for some people, not possible. I have to say, I really don't feel like myself when I mean the airport wheelchair. Could I encourage or challenge anyone that works in the aviation industry to sit in one of those wheelchairs for at least 3 hours? Then you might get an understanding of how uncomfortable they are and why people with disabilities don't want to be put in them. If we can manage it. Things like walking sticks and some walking frames. I know at least walking sticks can be put in the overhead luggage compartment when you get on the plane. But of course, there is no room to fit a wheelchair. So my wheelchair goes in the cargo. So we finally checked in and it's now time to go through security. I really feel for people with cognitive disabilities and people with sensory processing disabilities or disorders during this process. I don't go through the security check in with my parents. I have to go through a separate one because I can't go through the metal detectors regardless of whether I'm in my wheelchair or the airport's wheelchair. Wheelchairs have metal and therefore metal detectors don't work. Not to mention all the metal in my legs. But that's just beside the point. Well, everybody else goes through the metal detectors. I will myself onto a particular mat and a metal detector wand is waved over my body. Then I am patted down. They often do a drug test on my shoes and my wheelchair. I really think of people who have vision impairment. I really hope that no one has ever been separated from their service animal or their support person in that situation. Because as a default, when you have a disability, regardless of the sort of disability you have, we are quite vulnerable to other people's actions. As somebody with a disability, I'm required to get to the gate very early. I have to get on the aeroplane first as it takes more time to get me on the aircraft. I go down onto the air bridge in my wheelchair at the round circular section just before you get on the plane. There is a manual hoist or as it is known in the aviation industry and eagle hoist. The attendants put a sling around my body and then they transferred me onto the aeroplane. It's quite a process. And because people are so worried that I'm going to get injured or hurt myself, which I'm very appreciative of. It can take quite a lot of time. So because I've been allocated to the correct seat that the egg waste can be used on, I get put on the plane and lowered down into my seat again. I won't be a broken record, but this is just a reminder that because of being placed in my seat, I do not have the ability to go to the bathroom, nor would I be able to access one if I was in a wheelchair on the aeroplane. If you don't know what an answer is, it's a very narrow wheelchair. It's generally half the size of a standard wheelchair as far as width. If a person is able to walk a few steps or transfer themselves instead of getting on the Eagle hoist, there'll be an all chair waiting for them. They then transfer onto the aisle to get pushed onto the aircraft and then transfer into the seat themselves.
[00:13:15] Now while I'm getting transferred onto the aircraft via the Eagle hoist, my father and my mother are pulling apart my wheelchair, which is a very easy process now that I use a specific travel wheelchair. It is already tagged and it goes into the cargo. The cabin crew before everybody else get on. Normally comes down to people with disabilities individually and asked them how they can best help them in the event of an emergency. They also say in the event of the emergency, you will disembark last. They will help everybody off the plane first and then they will come and help you. So basically I just normally make a joke and say, Pull me by the hair, take me as ever or as you want. Just get me out of the plane. Thankfully in this scenario, we have landed safely. And because as somebody with a disability, we entered the plain first. That means we have to exit the plane lost. I always feel super awkward, regardless of how many times I've done this. So many lovely people stop and wait for me to stand up. If they're behind me on the aeroplane, I have to then do that awkward thing of saying, Oh no, sorry, got a disability. Just waiting to disembark. So finally the stragglers get off all the kids toddling down the aisles, commenting on X, Y and Z. Finally got off the plane and hopefully there is an eagle way. Set the destination. They do the exact same thing. They put the sling underneath me, they hoist me up, pull me out from the seat, push me along the aircraft, and then onto the average where just like magic, my wheelchair should have appeared and has now been put together by my parents while they're waiting for me to get off the aeroplane via the Eagle Hoist. And if things are going really well and it's a good day, the battery works, it clicks in, and my wheelchair has power. Then of course, we go to the baggage carousel, which is pretty inaccessible to me. There's no way knowing I can pick my luggage up off that carousel. So that's another job my parents have to do. And of course, when it comes to travel, leaving the airport doesn't mean that those challenges stop.
[00:16:00] But I really hope that has given an insight of how many challenges there are. I think it would be so great if there was some sort of attendant that had disability training or better yet, lived experience with disability to help people throughout the process. I know that for people with hidden disabilities, they have the opportunity to wear the sunflower lanyard. Which I've spoken about before on a previous podcast. But basically it's an identifier that allows for people to better understand your needs and requirements throughout the process. I saw the new Qantas Airbus get released a few weeks ago. And there's a wellness zone on this Airbus. I contacted Qantas and asked for some more information and they have not yet got back to me on what this wellness zone is. While there may not be a toilet I can use, I'm always happy to see inclusions for all people with disabilities, even if it means that I can't engage in the process.
[00:17:16] Thank you so much for listening to this two part series on airlines and airports. If you did enjoy this episode, can I encourage you to leave a rating and review? If you listen on Apple Podcasts or make sure you following the podcast on whatever platform you listening on. It'll helps more people find the podcast. Until next week, guys. Have a good one. Bye.