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How To Fly With SCI

Air travel can be a bit more complicated with a spinal cord injury (SCI), but it's doable as long as you prepare and keep an open mind.

Air travel can be a bit more complicated with a spinal cord injury (SCI), but it’s doable as long as you prepare and keep an open mind. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel on more than 50 flights since my accident – and I plan on flying many more!

Here are my tips and tricks to make flying with SCI as comfortable as possible.

1. Knowledge is power

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed: there are a lot of variables involved in travelling with a spinal cord injury. Knowing the ins-and-outs of each step, and having everything ready ahead of time, is paramount.

I’ve made a checklist to help me navigate the check-in process. Everyone’s checklist will be different, but mine includes:

  • Equipment: power chair, gel batteries, hoist batteries
  • Paperwork: medications, taxi vouchers
  • Information: luggage allowance, accessibility advice
  • Personal items: incontinence products, small denominations of currency (for tips and incidentals)

2. Carry your breakables

Sounds weird, right? But it’s not! I take my armrests, joystick, and anything else that could fall off my chair as hand luggage.

Keeping everything on you saves you the hassle of arriving at your destination to find your chair is missing an item, broken, or rendered unusable. Having to wait for a repair while interstate or overseas takes up valuable time – and trying to get by without is dangerous!

3. Skincare is a priority

As a person with a spinal cord injury, I have to be conscious of pressure and the possibility of pressure sores. From my own experience, I can tell you that pressure sores have a lengthy recovery period – weeks, months, or even years.

As a precaution, I sit on a ROHO low profile cushion in an airline seat, which helps prevent pressure sores. The cushion increases my overall height, which means I sit higher than the headrest. My travel buddy adjusts the cushion during the flight, as the cushion will deflate when the plane ascends.

Lindsay Nott on flight
A can-do attitude and proper preparation are essential if you’re going to fly with SCI. Credit: Lindsay Nott

4. Keep essentials within reach

Passports, medications, straws, incontinence products, phone, clothing – make sure it’s all within easy reach.

If you have items you need frequently, keep them within arm’s reach. This means having a backpack with all your go-to items in it, one that’s easily stored close by and conveniently on board.

5. Time management

Travelling and airport transfers are difficult to manage, with or without a wheelchair. Proper preparation helps me streamline these – at times – complicated processes for stress-free travel.

Plan the following carefully: travel to the airport, connecting flights, airport transfers, domestic/international timezone differences, and currency exchange. I always allow extra time to transfer between domestic and international airports.

I have also learned to schedule my bowel and bladder routines around flight times. I need to make sure I’m hydrated without overdoing it. Before any short flight, I will have a bathroom break to avoid needing to do so during transit, if possible. For longer flights, bathroom visits can be a challenge, but with assistance and a can-do attitude, they can be managed.

Once that’s taken care of, I always make sure I allow enough time to board the aircraft first. This gives my privacy, and room for the crew to transfer me to my allocated seat (always on the aisle).

Of course, you can’t plan for everything when you fly with SCI. Be willing to improvise, adapt, and overcome – it’s a motto that has helped me have incredible travel experiences, and I hope it can do the same for you.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

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