Will a wheelchair ever fly? I’m not talking about a rocket-powered wheelchair, although wouldn’t that be great?! I’m talking about the possibility of travelling in a wheelchair whilst on a plane.
Comfort and convenience
Imagine, instead of being lifted like a sack of spuds to be transferred onto an aeroplane seat, you simply wheel your wheelchair into a designated wheelchair space, then restraints lock it into place. No lifting and no faffing. Dignity is intact. No broken chair!
Thanks to a company called Molan Labe, located in Denver, this may be possible. They have invented a prototype seat that accommodates non-wheelchair users and wheelchair users alike.
When no wheelchair space is needed, Freedom Seat, as it’s been named, looks like a wide twin seat. When a wheelchair user flies, one seat can be slid on top of the other. This reveals the wheelchair docking/clamp system. This means that the airline doesn’t lose any aircraft space and therefore money if no wheelchair users fly.
Here is a video of the FreedomSeat in action.
Logistics of wheelchairs in passenger spaces
Putting aside the issue of cost, apparently, it will cost millions of dollars to test. There are still a lot of issues to work out.
How would wheelchair users drive their chairs onto the aeroplane?
I consider myself a good driver but if there are steps or a doorway isn’t wide enough there is no way my wheelchair is getting through!
How would the weight of wheelchairs affect the aircraft?
The video of the FreedomSeat says it can accommodate manual or power/electric wheelchairs. This is only right if it wants to be inclusive but the weight of my electric wheelchair is a lot heavier than my manual one! Aircraft can’t carry more than a certain weight. It could be argued that the aeroplane would be carrying the weight anyway, just in the passenger section of the plane rather than in Cargo but weight distribution is something that has to be thought about.
There has recently been a campaign for fire safety evacuation plans for disabled people as the government recently stipulated plans were needed for people in high-rise buildings. It has since been pointed out that plans are needed for all individuals who cannot evacuate a building. Imagine trying to evacuate from a plane! How is that safely achieved? Would the batteries on electric chairs pose a safety risk?
First on, last off
This is the main reason I won’t fly. For safety reasons, disabled people are loaded onto a plane first and the last to leave an aeroplane. Yet we are the ones who most likely need to use airport toilets! I have vivid memories of flying when I was eleven and having two adults and an attendant help me use an aircraft toilet. The attendant was there to guard the door as there was no room to shut it properly with three people in the tiny cubicle. Even if all the above points were sorted, how are disabled people supposed to access toilets? I doubt there will ever be enough room to drive a wheelchair to a bathroom.
Having to sit in the same position for longer than most of the other passengers, even from the comfort of my wheelchair, would still cause strain. I hope the FreedomSeat does get funded. Air travel must improve. A comfy, dignified seat is a good start, however, all barriers must be considered if air travel will be inclusive. What are your thoughts?