Watch out Minnesota! S is in the air and headed your way. It is time for his annual alone trip to visit family. Every year except one since S finished the third grade, he has taken this trip. It is a reward trip for him because he works hard during the school year. It has been a great incentive for him through the years. You will note that he didn't make this trip alone one year...enough said.
We are a family who travels quite a bit. Flying is a way of life for our children. Traveling alone isn't a big stretch. We just need to plan accordingly. Because of S's needs, there are a few more things we need to take into account when we send S by himself as opposed to J flying by himself.
Some helpful tips we have learned.
*We opt to have him fly on non-stop flights, so he doesn't need to go through the hassle of making a connection. We are fortunate that Delta has a non-stop flight to Minneapolis from Richmond and Norfolk. Both of these airports are within an hour's drive of our house (as opposed to the airport 12 minutes from our house). The first few years this flight was more expensive, but it is now just a few dollars more. It has been worth every extra penny for his travel ease.
*We wish Delta's drop-down menu for special services indicated that a passenger has his own wheelchair when we request wheelchair service. What happens is a wheelchair attendant shows up with a wheelchair. S doesn't need that. He just needs someone to help him maneuver through the airport. The challenge in a larger airport is not only getting around in his wheelchair by himself but needing to read the signs. Low Vision is an issue with this.
*Buy tickets well in advance so we have a good choice of seats for S. When S flies by himself, we want him seated near the front of the plane.
*He must also have a window seat because he isn't going to quickly or easily get up and move for anyone.
*We always make sure he has tip money handy for the wheelchair attendant.
*When he was younger, he flew as an unaccompanied minor. That meant he had to be taken to the gate and met at the gate. We used those years as practice years for when he would no longer fly as an unaccompanied minor. He needed to talk to counter agents and gate agents. He has to know what kind of help he needs, so he can request assistance.
*As many times as we have flown, we have never had any issues with TSA. The agents have always been very good with S. When he was young and TSA would pat down his chair (shortly after 9/11), we told him they were checking to see if he had hidden cookies in his wheelchair.
*He learned one year that he can't walk through security. That was a lesson he had to learn on his own. A TSA agent asked if he could walk through security and he told him he could walk through assisted. They went to assist him, and he fell. That was the last time he told them he could walk through security.
At the Gate - Boarding and Departing:
*S knows he needs to get a gate check tag for his wheelchair. That also notifies the gate agents that he has a wheelchair.
*Pre-boarding is the key. S opts to use his crutches to walk down the aisle of the plane rather than use the aisle chair. If he is still walking in the aisle and isn't seated, no one is getting to their seat. Some airlines are better than others about allowing enough time for this process because it is not done quickly.
*We know that if you need extra time getting on the plane, you will need extra time getting off the plane. S is the first one on the plane and the last one off the plane. That means his wheelchair is already waiting for him by the time he gets off the plane.
General Travel Tips that Make S’s Life Easier:
*He checks his bag. That way he is only responsible for himself and a small bag that holds spare glasses, his phone, headphones, wallet, snack, etc. He also carries his medicine because no one wants him to lose his Concerta!
*He travels in running pants or athletic shorts (something with an elastic waist). That just makes life easier for him if he needs to use the restroom. It's faster - enough said.
*The use of electronic devices makes it much easier to pack entertainment for the plane. He has his phone and headphones. Done!
Flight Crew and Passengers:
Of course, none of this is possible without the assistance of the flight crews. Along with the flight crew, S has always had very kind passengers on his flights.
*After his first trip alone, he now wears a watch on the flight, so he knows what time it is. On that particular trip he kept asking the man who sat next to him what time it was and how much longer they had before they landed in Minnesota. The man got off the plane, saw my parents waiting, and told them they must be waiting for their grandson who was very excited to be in Minnesota. After we heard that story, we told him to stop asking everyone around him when they would arrive. When the plane lands is when you will arrive.
*The flight crews have always been great with him. One time another passenger on the plane sent a note with S telling us how great the crew had been in their care for him. That was very nice. That allowed us the opportunity to pass that information along to the crew’s supervisors.
*One time at a Virginia airport we ran into a woman who had been on a Minneapolis flight with S. She came over to talk to us. She remembered him because she had swapped seats with him so he would be closer to the front.
While S is in Minnesota enjoying family, I will be enjoying some quiet time on the couch with chocolate. Actually, I will be doing some deep cleaning while I have the house to myself, but a girl can dream.