Finding a place and getting there.
I’ve maybe mentioned it before but searching for holidays is hard. Everyone has different needs so it’s never very seamless, but add in a 6”1’ man in a powered wheelchair and it all just gets a little harder. I couldn’t possibly count the days spent searching for something suitable and the stress gained by doing so. I know it isn’t good for me as it serves as a reminder of how different life is and my lack of success makes everything feel limited. I don’t like to feel limited.
The places you find that are perfect for Andy’s needs are big and spacious but small in number. What this basically means is that if we want to go, we need a lot of people to join us or we could never afford it and that is pretty difficult to organise. We need to book really far in advance to get the few places available and sometimes annual leave just isn’t sorted yet!
People are so good and give you lots of suggestions and I have looked into a lot of those options but what we want (in a perfect world) is our own villa with a profiling bed and pool access. I found it in one place, was ready to book but there was no method of transport for Andy on the island (as no van was big enough). I found one again but it was booked up and another for the equivalent of my annual income. If you are reading this and in the same boat, I get it, it sucks!
The search for somewhere hot was ditched, we’d have been paying roughly three times the price of other houses and we just cannot afford to do that. So began my search for somewhere closer to home and I would like to share our experience with you.
We found a beautiful home in South Ayrshire and decided to use the trip as flying practice. We always said that we would start with a short flight before going away on a longer holiday as I am all about reducing that stress and the unknown is crazy stressful for us. So, plan- go away with my family so that Mum and Dad can drive our van over on the boat with the doggies and my siblings can join us on the flight for some support. This worked really well and I was so thankful for everyone being able to play their part in it all.
We flew with Flybe and it was relatively straight forward to sort out all special assistance requests. I downloaded the form from their website, filled in all the information about the weight, dimensions of the wheelchair as well as the battery type etc. Some of this info I had previously saved on my phone from the millions of times I’ve needed to know the chair dimensions and some of it I referred to the user manual for. Once I emailed it off, I got a pretty quick response, had to clarify a couple of things and then we were sorted. I just needed to practice disconnecting the batteries as I knew I would end up being watched and rushing while doing it. Straightforward but my goodness that chair is heavy, 135kg (including batteries) to be exact. This is why I laugh when people suggest lifting Andy up some steps when accessible options aren’t there, that 135kg will increase just a little more with his butt on it.
Step 1 – Arrive at airport and contact the CVV desk (Belfast City). A friend of a friend was working that day so we had been able to contact before to let her know we were coming which was so so nice. She took us to check in, helped label up Andy’s chair and was with us right up until the plane. She helped with baggage, passed on all of our info and gave good chat.
Step 2 – Go through security. This was really seamless and normal for us, we were fast tracked through and Andy needed a pat down but everyone was so good at asking about any areas that were sore or any other issues they needed to know about. Andy was being hilarious, as usual. I bleeped, I always bleep!
Step 3 – Getting on the plane. We went to the gate 30 minutes ahead of the other passengers. The plane had been changed the day before as Flybe contracted it out to another carrier. This pilot had never heard of the battery type on the chair which caused a bit of a delay and stress. He wanted forms for a “dangerous liquid” but it wasn’t actually required. Staff kept apologising for the whole thing but we honestly weren’t even stressed (which was a major blessing) as they were still getting Andy onto the plane and I knew that his battery was allowed, therefore eventually they would know that too. I just had nothing to show to help in the matter so I focused on Andy and his transfers.
We went up in an ambilift which I didnt get a photo of on the way over but did for the flight home. Basically you get in a wee van that brings you up to the height of the door and this is where you transfer from your own chair to the planes aisle chair. Once transferred, you can be wheeled straight onto the plane. This contracted carrier was apparently one of the worst aircrafts for accessibility but even so, Andy fit through the service door- I think I almost crawled through it- and we were off. I must note: for transfer Andy chose to be lifted by staff as it felt like the safer option than sliding board transfer himself. He did slide for one of the transfers on Glasgow end when he had more space.
Step 4 – Disconnect battery and wrap chair to protect. This has its own step as it is pretty important and I wanted to do it after Andy was in his seat so as I could be there to watch his transfers. The staff were well trained but who knows when they will need my extra hands and yes, I was useful I promise. On the way over, Anna (our lovely airport friend) wrapped the arm of the chair and joystick the way I’d asked and for the flight home the other two travelling with us were allowed into the ambilift to help with those things (and take some pics).
Step 5 – Take some cute selfies and enjoy the flight. We got a small pressure relieving cushion for Andy which seemed to work well but it’s Glasgow so the minute you’re up in the air you start to descend again.
Step 6 – Wait for assistance to leave the plane. This bit is frustrating as everyone else is away and you watch as they are fuelling up on one side and all hold luggage is being removed on the other side. You just wish you were allowed to go first instead of having awkward chat inside the plane while its all cleaned up around you (although they do need to go and get your chair so it is understandable). In Glasgow they arrived with one of those chairs that climbs the stairs (I think this was due to the aircraft not being super accessible). I’m pretty sure Andy coped with this part much better than I did. They just pushed him out onto the normal aircraft steps and he went down one at a time. Scary but safe-ish.
Step 7 – Reconnect batteries with that audience of eight-ten people you knew you’d have. Also take off bubble wrap and *FRAGILE – DO NOT TURN CHAIR ON SIDE* sign.
Step 8 – Transfer back onto his own chair and find the accessible way back into airport. Meet your brother who is waiting to take your pic and show you to your van that has the puppers inside. Done. We made it to Glasgow and it was much less stressful than we thought (not sure Andy was ever stressed lets be honest).
The way home was a little smoother in that it was a Flybe plane, there was no question about the batteries and no service door entry necessary. I did however cut my fingers when disconnecting and reconnecting the batteries and I did feel sorry for myself as I was sleepy and honestly, the evidence is still there as my finger has not yet healed, unlike my heart, it’s over it now.
I’m pretty sure that is enough information for now, I hope that if you have not flown before that this will provide some insight for you. We know that every flight is different and that abilities are also not going to be the same but one thing we found comfort in was that the staff do this everyday and that was clear. We didn’t wrap the chair up as much as we would have liked and one of the arms did get damaged so definitely make that a priority. It’s not horrendous but probably will get worse and need replaced. Another top tip is to bring your dogs on holiday with you because they will have the best time and your heart will feel warm and fuzzy.
Lots of photos and info about the house coming soon,