If you are a wheelchair user wanting to take to the skies with a well-equipped and caring airline, you can’t go wrong with Air New Zealand.
Frankly, I’ve been putting off flying for years and years. It was something I always wanted to do, but I had serious concerns over the logistics and hassle of transferring from my wheelchair into the seat on the plane always put me off. Furthermore, I had heard my fair share of horror stories from other disabled people about wheelchairs getting broken in cargo and important medical equipment being lost in baggage.
This past week, I finally “sucked it up” and took to the skies for the first time, and I am delighted to say that the experience was far less of a hassle than I had previously feared.
During each of my three flights this week, the staff at Air New Zealand treated me with dignity, respect, and a good understanding and allowance of my access needs. During the process of transferring, they also took their time and didn’t rush me, whilst also communicating through the whole experience and checking on me mid-flight.
As they say, the finer details of the catering matter and Air New Zealand ticked all the boxes there.
To transfer out of my wheelchair, I had to use a lifting device called The Eagle II. The device is placed at the front end of the plane just after the airbridge, so you actually have to drive your wheelchair into the plane itself. Air New Zealand provides you with a lifting sling of varying size that connects to the lift in four separate places, two connections behind the shoulders and two under the legs. Once the Eagle Lift raises you from the wheelchair, you are moved down the aisle and lowered into your seat which is not far from the transfer point at the front of the plane. Once seated, I was equipped with a torso harness to ensure I was tightly secured in the seat. The lifting harness is kept on you for the duration of the flight as you have to use it again when transferring back into the wheelchair.
During the transfer, airport staff takes the wheelchair down into the cargo hold.
Advice for Disabled Travelers
Plan, book early and talk with the medical team at Air New Zealand. You need to specify what your needs are ahead of time and specify to the airline exactly what medical equipment you will need to take with you.