It was December 2015, during a return flight from Mexico with my wheelchair bound daughter that I decided to research why air travel is inaccessible for a wheelchair user, this was the trigger for my campaign. Whenever we travel by land and sea it is accessible if you use a wheelchair, I will be the first to admit that it is not perfect, nevertheless it is accessible.
It quickly became apparent that whether you are 8 or 80 and want to travel by air, the undignified rules are simple. You must be prepared to be manhandled to a seat that it is typically uncomfortable for you, your wheelchair is then taken from you and placed in the hold, despite the best efforts in the airline/airport chain the probability of your wheelchair being damaged, lost or even destroyed is very high, the likelihood of you waiting for you to be repatriated with your wheelchair on arrival swiftly is something of a lottery. Using a toilet on an aircraft is for most not achievable, for a flight longer than perhaps 2 hours disabled passengers will dehydrate and refuse fluids, for an industry that prides itself on passenger safety a blind eye is clearly being turned. No other passenger boards an aircraft with all these hurdles to overcome, is it any surprise that some disabled travellers refuse to fly, and our elderly population give up flying?
It is now January 2019, three years on and this campaign has gained a lot of friends and supporters. It has been debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in the next few weeks it is very likely this will become government policy. I have attended aviation conferences and engaged with those very stakeholders that can make this happen, there involvement is crucial. As are the wheelchair manufacturers who are ready to bring this to a reality, the support from all those different communities that will eventually benefit has been huge and humbling.
I have a handful of people close to me that I describe as my team, they are pushing me along, like me they believe this is perfectly achievable and long overdue without them I would not be where I am today. I am now in the position to bring all those significant innovators and creators together to establish the solution, without this the status quo will remain and therefore only get worse – a fatality should not be the trigger.
Passengers using air travel with a disability increase year on year in double digit figures, we are a global ageing population that is living longer and for many this comes with limited mobility. By establishing this solution, layers of poor practice across the aviation bubble I am sure will be revealed – they are there, I have witnessed these issues.
My ambition is simple, I would like my son and daughter to have a comfortable and dignified journey by air, to achieve this they and so many like them around the world must be able to travel by air sitting in their own wheelchair – nothing less will do. If an industry is not including, then they are excluding - surely in this day and age this is not acceptable.
About Chris Wood - Founder of Flying Disabled
Flying Disabled founder Chris Wood is a single parent to his Son Jordan and his daughter Tayla, both are disabled and have a real zest for life. After a trip to Mexico in 2015 with his daughter and watching her struggle to access the aircraft, then sit in discomfort in an airplane seat for many hours he decided to research into why air travel is so far behind travel by land and sea.
He is approaching this campaign positively. He believes by working alongside the airlines, stakeholders and the benefiting community there is a way of creating inclusion, dignity, increasing safety and offering airlines a whole new customer base, most of which will just not use or are anxious about using an airline to travel.
For more information visit www.flyingdisabled.org.uk or follow the campaign on Twitter: @flyingdisabled
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