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Old May 14, 08, 8:55 pm   #1
 
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Wheelchair assistance - who qualifies and some questions

I've been diagnosed with bad osteoarthritis in one hip - walking for any distance (> 50 yards at a time) is painful (especially with a laptop backpack) and standing is worse. I'm scheduled to fly SYD-LAX-DEN in two weeks, with return two weeks later (QF and AA). I can face the long flights but the prospect of endless corridors, waiting for baggage and especially the TSA lines at LAX really worry me. A domestic trip to MEL and back a few weeks ago didn't kill me, but it wasn't pleasant.

My mom (experienced with arthritis, but not really with air travel) suggests asking for wheelchair assistance. Is "it really hurts to walk" a good enough reason for this? I don't want to abuse the system or take resources from people who need it more than I do.

Who uses (and how do you arrange) those electric vehicles that zoom around the terminal? Is that a better alternative?

If I request wheelchair assistance (which I assume is linked to my e-ticket), I have some further questions. In LAX, will they take me from the gate through immigration, baggage claim, baggage drop-off and to the Qantas Club (all in terminal 4)? How do I/they handle moving my checked baggage? I have four hours between flights and I can make it from the Club to my departure gate.

In DEN I would just like help from the gate to baggage claim and somewhere to sit while waiting. Once I have my bag I should be okay. Leaving DEN it would be nice to have help through the TSA lines and to the Admiral's Club.

Some have mentioned tipping the wheelchair helpers. Is this the usual thing and if so, how much? (Will need to get US cash before leaving SYD.)

Am I going to attract unpleasant attention? (I can deal with it; I'd just like to know.) I don't look old enough for arthritis. (I'm NOT old enough!)

I'll be travelling with a work colleague (same industry, different company); I'm sure he'll help but I don't want to impose on him.

Any advice would be appreciated; I'm really frustrated as I've always been an efficient, well-organised independent traveller.
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Old May 14, 08, 9:21 pm   #2
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I'm sorry to hear that you're having to deal with pain and difficulty walking/standing.

There are no criteria for wheelchair assistance. Nobody's going to ask for your disability id (which we don't have in the States, anyway). From what you describe, if I were you I wouldn't hesitate to ask for assistance in order to avoid having to walk and stand in line.

You can (and should) request it in conjunction with your reservation, but don't assume that the information will manage to follow you around. Ask again when you get to the airport.

Please don't worry about what people are thinking about you (in my experience, people are hardly ever thinking about anything but themselves). Consider this to be one of the ways in which you are maintaining your independence - you are arranging for the assistance you need rather than hoping that your colleagues will step into the breach.

I know (believe me!) how embarrassing and difficult it is to be seen in public the first couple of times using any sort of mobility aid, but concentrate on the freedom from pain and the fact that you are being proactive in getting your needs met and be proud of yourself.

Edited to add: tipping - you can search in this forum for tipping and find a multitude of opinions. Mine is that it's a good idea to tip the wheelchair pusher $2-5 in the US.

Last edited by Katja; May 14, 08 at 9:26 pm.
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Old May 14, 08, 9:53 pm   #3
 
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Thanks, Katja, for the helpful reply and encouragement. I'll follow it up with Qantas to link to my reservation and take your advice about asking frequently.
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Old May 14, 08, 10:25 pm   #4
 
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Sorry

Quote:
Originally Posted by RadioGirl View Post
I've been diagnosed with bad osteoarthritis in one hip - walking for any distance (> 50 yards at a time) is painful (especially with a laptop backpack) and standing is worse.
to hear that you are having that level of difficulty. Do NOT be shy about requesting the assistance you need.

I hope this part here will not bore you or seem pedantic. There are actually 4 different codes the airlines use to indicate that wheelchair assistance is needed. They are:

WCHR - Passenger who can walk up and down stairs and move about in an aircraft cabin, but who requires a wheelchair or other means for movements between the aircraft and the terminal, in the terminal and between arrival and departure points on the city side of the terminal;

WCHS - Passenger who cannot walk up or down stairs, but who can move about in an aircraft cabin and requires a wheelchair to move between the aircraft and the terminal, in the terminal and between arrival and departure points on the city side of the terminal;

WCHP - Passenger with a disability of the lower limbs who has sufficient personal autonomy to take care of him/herself, but who requires assistance to embark or disembark and who can move about in an aircraft cabin only with the help of an on-board wheelchair; and

WCHC - Passenger who is completely immobile, who can move about only with the help of a wheelchair or any other means and who requires assistance at all times from arrival at the airport to seating in the aircraft or, if necessary, in a special seat fitted to his/her specific needs, the process being inverted at arrival.

These codes are put into fields in your PNR called SSRs [Special Service Request]. SSRs have to be entered according to the prescribed format code of the airline.

There are other fields called OSIs [Other Special Information]. These fields are free-flowing and the airline CSR can put anything at all in an OSI.

Were I you,I would NOT hesitate to make the extent of your need known to the airline CSR ["I need you to put in a SSR; I need you to enter an OSI"; etc]. Here is the reason -- if you put in the wrong SSR code, the airport employee may be assigned to help a second passenger because you only need "x" type of service. I hope that comes across as clear; I am a little tired.

And, just like you probably had planned, call back 2 or 3 times before your departure and make sure everything is set.
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Old May 15, 08, 12:33 am   #5
 
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Thumbs up

Thanks - the details and advice are very helpful. I've called Qantas and used your specific words. The agent's mother is in a wheelchair so she knows the drill. And it shows up on Checkmytrip, so I'm feeling confident. (Now I just need to send positive brainwaves at Qantas about my upgrade request!)
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Old May 15, 08, 6:27 am   #6
 
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The service is there for people in your situation. People who who use a mobility device everyday tend to bring their own chair with them. I doubt that you will be taking something from someone who needs it more. Enjoy your trip!
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Old May 19, 08, 6:34 am   #7
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RadioGirl, There is another aspect of all this that you might not have considered.

You need to save wear and tear on yourself!

As an older woman, I can tell you that I've already made the mistake of not doing so!

Consider your body as an investment account. Treat your body kindly and it will return the favor later on in your life.

American airports are often HUGE. Treating yourself kindly will help to prevent wear and tear on your body.

With medical advances coming along, you need to be in the best possible shape to benefit from them.

I wish someone had told me this 25 years ago!

Bon Voyage!
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Old May 22, 08, 1:27 pm   #8
 
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Double-ditto to what Oldpenny said. I got arthritis very young, and when I was in college, I worked in fast food. Despite the fact that standing up in my job almost killed me my feet hurt so badly, I "sucked it up" and did it for almost 2 years. The net result of that was that I had to get an ankle replacement in my 30's. (Actually, it's a wonder it lasted that long.)

While joint replacements are the best thing since sliced bread (I actually love mine), it's still not something one should be cavalier about.
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Old May 22, 08, 1:48 pm   #9
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I requested wheelchair assistance on my last trip - I'd hoped not to have to do so, but a setback in my recovery put me into a similar situation to yours.

The endless corridors, waiting to board, the randomness of finding a vacant chair and then finding one that isn't painful (public seating is very poorly designed), and the way spine and sciatic pain become more pronounced when I am tired. I hadn't needed a chair on two previous flights this year and I hope not to need one on my next trip on Tuesday.

As DeafFlyer has said, your circumstances are exactly what these chairs are for. Last year I was totally dependent on a chair to get anywhere so I provided my own. With my last flight (because I am still weaning myself off from having to use one) I was grateful to have the opportunity to avail myself of wheelchair assistance.

I can't see how your situation is any different from mine.

Look after yourself!
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Old May 22, 08, 10:29 pm   #10
 
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Thanks all

Thanks, everyone - this is a quiet but friendly corner of FT and I really appreciate the encouragement! Yes, the endless corridors and the memory of waiting 45 minutes at DEN baggage claim were exactly the sort of thing I was worried about.

The irony is that my whole life has been based on avoiding wear-and-tear: look up "sedentary" in the dictionary and you'll see my picture. My doctor warned about not getting enough exercise, and now looks at the x-ray shaking her head and saying, "did you do a lot of jogging when you were younger???" Ummm, no.

Travel has been the only time I got any real exercise - I can't be bothered walking around the block at home but I love walking for hours in a strange city. Fortunately (?) this trip is for business and I won't have much time for sightseeing. And I've joined the swimming club at home to get regular (boring) exercise.

Thanks again - I feel better about this and will report back how it all goes.
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Old May 23, 08, 4:26 am   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RadioGirl View Post

Travel has been the only time I got any real exercise - I can't be bothered walking around the block at home but I love walking for hours in a strange city. Fortunately (?) this trip is for business and I won't have much time for sightseeing. And I've joined the swimming club at home to get regular (boring) exercise.
I can sympathise with this completely, and you've made me feel a little better about myself!

I assumed that once I would be back on my feet again I'd be striding around all my old haunts making up for lost time and independence. It hasn't worked out that way at all. I kind of got too used to being at home and feel a sense of both apathy and trepidation going out by myself. It doesn't help that my once brisk pace is now a series of moderate steps.

So I've redeemed a bunch of miles and am heading to Japan (a country where I feel extremely 'safe' on many levels) alone, and to a region where I don't know anyone.

This will force me to exercise and confront the world without my husband, who has been such a magnificent support. I've also chosen to go somewhere without internet access or television .
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Old May 23, 08, 5:49 am   #12
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
I've also chosen to go somewhere without internet access or television .
Noooooooo!!!! How will you keep us updated?

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Old May 23, 08, 10:28 am   #13
 
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I am not sure anyone fully answered your questions about what to expect from the person who pushes your wheelchair. Normally this person will wheel you right through customs and immigration, if you need to stop at a restroom you may make that request and the pusher will take you there. If you want to stop at a restaurant or club room they will take you there and leave you. Normally you will be given a card and a number to call when you are ready to leave for your gate. Occasionally the wheel chair pusher will not only deliver you to the luggage pick-up, but may also help you located your bags and help you to the curb.

One of the best things for me about being in the wheelchair is the ease with which I normally pass through security. The person who pushes your wheelchair will be directed to a security location and he will move directly to the head of the line. You, along with whom ever you are traveling with will immediately enter the security process. I have prosthetic replacement joints and always set the metal detector off, so I just proceed immediately to the pat down area. The person pushing my wheelchair usually supervises my belongings on the conveyor belt and brings them back to me. We experienced that same "front of the line" service at custom and immigration points when we travel internationally.

Having said this, you may experience the occasional airport or airline that does not do a great job of this. In some airports my request for a wheelchair has been addressed by pointing me to a wheelchair. Once in a while, an airline employee has suggested that my husband push my wheelchair. This is not a good option for us. He has our carry-on luggage, boarding passes, my ID and his ID, and he is also disabled and cannot push the wheelchair without causing pain to himself. Worst of all, he will never accept the front-of-the-line opportunities so we stay stuck at the back of the line.

The person who pushes your wheelchair is likely a minimum wage employee, and I think he/she deserves a good tip. I generally base that tip on the amount of time the wheelchair pusher is with me, and the amount of services he provides. If someone picks me up at the plane, takes me through customs and immigration, manages my luggage during customs, re-checks my luggage and delivers me to my gate I tip $15 to $20.

If someone picks me up at the check-in desk and negotiates me through security and delivers me to the gate I normally tip between $4 and $8 depending on quality of service. Indifferent or unpleasant people do not get as much as those who are personable. A month ago as we were moving through the terminal at 5:30 am I asked my husband to stop at a Starbuck's. The man pushing my wheelchair decided we would all stop at Starbuck's. While my husband got our beverages my wheelchair assistant kept me entertained with stories from his years playing basketball. He then took me to the gate and made sure that the GA knew I was there. He then gave me his card and told me I could call him on his cell phone if anything happened and the gate changed or I needed help the next time I was in the terminal. I gave him $10!

You should certainly not feel guilty about using a wheelchair. I have had mobility difficulties for nearly two decades. I can walk for short distances, transfer from chair to seat and manage some stairs. When I received my last knee replacement my doctor said that I should imagine that the knee would provide X number of steps, and I should make sure that everytime I took one of those steps it was an important step for me. In other words, I should not waste my steps. For me, moving great distances in an airport when I do not need to constitutes a waste of precious steps.

Initially I felt a little guilty when we always moved to the front of the line, were boarded first on the plane and got those other little perks society reserves for the disabled, but that guilt passed quickly. If I were in a normal line I would slow the entire process down for everyone behind me. I no longer feel anymore guilt about using a wheelchair in the airport than I do about using my disabled placard when parking my car in a disabled parking place.

Order a wheelchair and save those precious steps for precious moments!
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Old May 23, 08, 12:44 pm   #14
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Very good point about thinking about your replacement knees as if they had a meter on them! Counting down to zero!

Now that I am an Old Penny I try to practice conservation of body parts. Wish I had done so a long time ago! Life would be more pleasant now.
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Old May 24, 08, 3:06 am   #15
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Thank you for the run down flyingfran, I'm sure this will be useful for RadioGirl.

The experience seems to be different in Europe and Asia to the US, it's also a little different when you have your own chair and a travel partner to when you borrow one from the airport and travel alone.

You've addressed RadioGirl's circumstances much better than I could have.
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