FROM YOUR DOOR TO PARIS AND BACK (PART 1)
Well, you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and are planning your trip to Paris. OK, LET’S GO!
Where do you begin? First, there is an aircraft procuring the right wheelchair, traveling to the airport, checking in, getting to the gate and on the plane, what to do on the plane, disembarking from the plane, collecting your baggage and wheelchair, securing a taxi to your hotel, and using taxis in Paris. Getting home is just the reverse procedure.
The key to keeping this a wonderful experience and a theme you will read repeatedly throughout this post, is to give yourself extra time so that your stress level is reduced.
One of the many the nice things about going to a place like Paris or Rome, is that there are direct flights. No switching planes required. We have found switching planes, unless absolutely essential, just adds to your stress level. We have even taken to driving further than necessary just to avoid it. For instance, when we have gone to Tuscany, Italy, we still fly into Rome, secure our vehicle, and drive the 3 hours. Switching planes takes time anyway. With GPS signals good all over the world there is no problem in getting from one of these major airports to a slightly more remote location.
Before even getting to the airport though, you should first give yourself plenty of time to pack, get to the airport, and make the journey from the ticket counter to the gate. All of these are, to a large degree, under your control. What’s the difference if you wait a little extra at the airport or wait at home? You’re probably just reading from your ipad, iphone or Samsung device. Get there early and relax!
Next is securing your plane tickets. Ticket prices have come down by almost half in the last 2 years. You can fly to Paris now round trip for $600-700 dollars if you plan ahead. Websites like Expedia have options where you can indicate you are in a wheelchair. This varies from site to site-some do, some don’t, so you may want to go with one that offers this feature. No matter where you get your ticket, whether from a website like Expedia or directly through an airline, it is always a good idea to follow up with a phone call to make sure they know what you need. They will note it, and, hopefully, the ticket counter will have the information. Whether the ticket counter has the information or not doesn’t always matter, they will make the necessary notations upon your arrival. Like I said- just give yourself extra time.
In this blog I will cover those in a wheelchair, but I will, very shortly, get to those whose walking ability is limited. You will see that there should be no fear in either circumstance. If you need information you don’t find in this blog please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to answer your questions.
Let’s talk about what type of wheelchair you need. If you read the rules in the following link you will see that most wheelchairs/scooters are permissible (https://www.mobilityscootersdirect.com/blog/general/traveling-with-a-mobility-scooter-or-power-wheelchair-on-an-airplane/#.WlkFG4GK5Uc.mailto). Obviously you can take a manual wheelchair. You can take a battery powered wheelchair. The only real requirement is that they have the non-spill batteries. My wife has this great Quantum battery powered wheelchair. I would never think of taking it since it weighs 250 lbs. or more. There could be tight spots and may you need a little more flexibility than this affords.
For our travels we prefer the battery wheelchairs that can actually fold up if needed, weigh around 100-120 lbs. They are easier to handle (see attached picture). If you purchase them they can cost anywhere between $1000 to $3000. Unless you are traveling a few times a year you may want to stick with the lower end of the price spectrum since you’ll only be using it for a week or so. You can also rent them, which is especially helpful if this trip is your first. This said, once you have taken the trip, and have seen things you never thought you would, you will no doubt begin planning your next adventure.
So now you have a wheelchair you are comfortable with. It can be manual or battery powered-it’s up to you. As I’ve said before give yourself some extra time in getting your wheelchair. If possible, get the wheelchair well ahead of time and give yourself time to try it out, get used to it, make sure the seat is cushioned, and you are comfortable in it for a few hours at a time. The seats usually come in several widths so before ordering it, make sure it will be wide enough. They come with seat belts which will be important especially while touring. They also come with battery chargers which will have both US and Europe electrics (US is 115 volts, Europe 220 volts). When you get to Europe make sure you switch the voltage so that you don’t ruin the charger. We learned from experience! Another important thing to keep in mind is that these electric wheelchairs are light enough that they can also work as manual wheelchairs. You just make the switch in the back of the chair near the batteries and voila, manual. If you, for some reason, intend to use it manually for the day, you can even remove the batteries which will save about 40-50 lbs. Of course you’ll need someone to push you since they don’t have the big wheels that are on strictly manual chairs.
Now let’s get to the airport!
In New York City, as in most metropolitan areas there are many ways to get to the airport. My recommendation? Take a taxi. Yes, you can just call up Accessible Dispatch (http://accessibledispatch.org/). They will send a taxi with a ramp so you don’t have to even leave the wheelchair. They charge the same as a regular taxi, come right to your door, and also serve all five boroughs. This type of service is available throughout the metropolitan area(s). It is an unfortunately underutilized asset and even people who never leave the city don’t use it often enough.
Well, there are some public buses that go to the airport and they are all wheelchair accessible.
There is the Airtrain. Take the Long Island Railroad to Jamaica, get to the Airtrain and they drop you off at each terminal. (https://wheelchairtravel.org/new-york-city/airport/)
Once your at the airport, if your baggage can be handled by the sidewalk porters in front of the terminal..
Next time I will cover the ticket counter and getting from the ticket counter to the gate, getting on the plane and the flight experience.