Travelling with mum: getting around with limited mobility

Kaye road tests Qantas’s service for those travelling with limited mobility.

Travelling with mum: getting around with limited mobility

A family wedding in late March meant my mum and I needed to travel from Melbourne to Sydney. This was no small feat as Mum uses a walking frame. I decided to ‘road-test’ Qantas’s service for older, less-able travellers and found it a mixed experience.

Here’s the lowdown on what you can do to ensure the comfort of loved ones who need mobility assistance while flying domestically. First I contacted the airline’s media department and asked how those travelling with a walking frame could ensure their needs would be met. The reply I received – basically just ‘rock up on the day and tell them at check-in’ – was the worst advice and totally out of sync with what we were actually required to do.

When we arrived at check-in, we were told the mobility frame was a third piece of luggage on top of two suitcases and would attract an extra baggage fee. We were also informed there were no wheelchairs for in-airport transport as we hadn’t pre-booked one. Seriously? I showed the desk staff my email from media telling us to just announce our needs on the day. By then mum was exhausted and I was totally pissed off. But this was when the experience improved dramatically.

wheelchair at an airport lounge

Sensing our genuine frustration, the magnificent Qantas check-in attendant produced a wheelchair and a staff member to take Mum through security while I managed our carry-on bags. Plus Mum’s frame was checked in free-of-charge, as it should have been. The staff in the Qantas Club found a comfortable space for us and requested further ground crew to help take Mum to the gate when it was time for takeoff.

The only further hiccup was that Mum’s wheelchair was too wide to go on the plane. So the flight was delayed while they searched the airport for a narrower wheelchair to deliver Mum to her seat.

This probably made her feel like a nuisance, but to be fair to the ground crew and flight attendants, they couldn’t have been kinder. Finally we took off and Mum got to attend her first grandchild’s very special wedding.

For our return journey, I was sure to call Qantas and request a wheelchair well in advance. This worked well, but it is worth noting that the disabled toilets in all three Qantas lounges (Qantas Club, Business and Chairman’s) double up as showers. Somewhat unbelievably, all three were fully occupied as showers when we needed access on the way back from Sydney Airport. With an ageing population, this is something worth consideration by all airlines hoping to serve older travellers.

So how to summarise our experience? A low grade to Qantas for not offering clear information upfront for those with special needs – say 4/10. But a high score for the airport staff and flight attendants who generously cared about Mum’s welfare –our experience in their hands was definitely worth a 9/10.

I contacted Qantas’s media department on our return to try to unearth the best advice for YourLifeChoices members who are less mobile. Below are links to their advice – I hope your travels are smoother than ours were!

Anyone who requires specific needs (support and assistance at the airport and in the air):

http://www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/special-travel-needs/global/en

Providing your information on special assistance:

http://www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/how-to-book-assistance/global/en

This article is part one of a two-part ‘Travelling with Mum’ road-test of mobility experiences. Look out for Kaye’s article on her mum’s stay at Sydney’s Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach Hotel.





    COMMENTS

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    Rosret
    10th Jun 2017
    8:17am
    They don't let private wheelchairs through because they are a security risk. Honestly, with the distances needed to walk from check-in to plane, the limited space in an aircraft and toilet, the difficulty of parking and getting transport to and from the airport, the security "mistrust everyone" policy with grannies with hip replacements that fire off the security system, her stash of medicinal drugs, her knack of making loud inappropriate racial comments and the need to go to the toilet just as the plane is boarding, then blaming the baggage handlers for stealing her hearing aid that she has left at home - its hard enough with children - I wouldn't do it. You would need an achievement medal at the end!
    Car, train, boat - no planes.
    Paws
    10th Jun 2017
    9:29am
    The airlines do have special wheelchairs that will fit onto the plane and down the aisles. These have to go through security checks also.
    Paws
    10th Jun 2017
    9:27am
    I am disabled after a massive stroke and all our travel requirements we have made through Flight Centre and have had practically no trouble at all. The airlines cannot charge you excess baggage for medical equipment needed for your trip as this is discrimination The only real trouble I had was with P & O as they did not listen to the travel agent - Harvey World Travel. Even when I went to Dubai the resort brought in equipment for me and had it installed.
    lwcarden
    10th Jun 2017
    9:30am
    I have travelled all over the world with my disabled husband. I have always pre-arranged wheelchair assistance and in some cases lifts to the plane.
    lwcarden
    10th Jun 2017
    9:32am
    I must say the access to Jetstar and Virgin at Melbourne Airport is appalling with those who have difficulty walking short distances and who do not have a wheelchair finding it almost impossible to get to and from the check-in. Their has to be a better way for these travellers. I have never found it a problem anywhere else!!!
    Nan Norma
    10th Jun 2017
    9:41am
    My mother travel overseas several times. She wasn't in a wheel chair but couldn't climb steps. A wheelchair was booked and she was taken care of from her arrival at the airport right the way through to her arrival at the other end. It is also handy to book a wheelchair for a none English speaking person.
    Nan Norma
    10th Jun 2017
    9:41am
    My mother travel overseas several times. She wasn't in a wheel chair but couldn't climb steps. A wheelchair was booked and she was taken care of from her arrival at the airport right the way through to her arrival at the other end. It is also handy to book a wheelchair for a none English speaking person.
    Jeanie
    10th Jun 2017
    10:13am
    Because of back problems I use a walking frame, although I can walk a short distance without it. I too have had mixed experiences with domestic airlines. There seems to be no set rules for walking frames. I have never been told I need to pay to take it, but sometimes I have been allowed to keep it until I actually boarded the plane (even across the tarmac as far as the steps) and other times I have had to give it up at check-in. This leaves my rather unwell husband having to push me around in a wheelchair. Things do not always run smoothly. On an overseas flight it went missing and could not be located on arrival in Singapore. This resulted in a 2hour delay, with our airport pick-up having to wait all that time to take us to our hotel, with a battered old wheelchair loaned by the airport. Because I do not know what to expect with the domestic airlines, I am reluctant to travel any more. Perhaps some thought could be given to making things run more smoothly for those with walking frames.
    Eddy
    10th Jun 2017
    10:15am
    Well Kaye, when travelling Qantas with my 90+yo Mother-in-law I can truly say Qantas could not be more helpful. We travel across the country at least twice a year for Mum to change carer (we share care 4 to 6 months apiece with my wife's brother), and have been for 5 years. We don't have to ask for special assistance, but we always call the Special Assistance number listed on the emailed ticket, as they have the requirement noted on her Frequent Flyer membership.
    We also have a similar experience with Princess Cruise, so travelling with a disabled/mobility impaired person is not such a hassle.
    I suspect all airlines and cruise lines offer the same, or similar level, of support.
    Dabbydoos
    10th Jun 2017
    10:29am
    I travel with QATAR airlines from Perth to Heathrow and I travel alone. They are fantastic, although travelling economy I am looked after like royalty. Request for assistance is made at the time of booking.
    Dobbo1
    10th Jun 2017
    11:07am
    My wife is disabled, and we travel with her mobility scooter within Australia, and around the world with a letter from Qantas regarding the carriage of dangerous goods with batteries (not Lithium). This letter, which has to be renewed annually, has so far been accepted by all other carriers we have used, including British Airways, Emirates and even Virgin! The scooter is carried free of charge, and there is usually a wheelchair waiting at check in, which needs to be booked in advance. All airlines with whom we have travelled have all been very helpful in looking after my wife. We have also taken the scooter on cruises with the same level of attention.If you book early enough, a disabled friendly cabin is also available, and is much larger than standard, at no extra cost!
    rtrish
    10th Jun 2017
    11:58am
    I can walk but have mobility issues and use a walking stick (cane). Also I carry a bag on board with CPAP. I do not use CPAP on-board but am advised not to check it in, in case of damage. This makes it very hard in the circumstance where i have to use steps or escalator to get to the ground, then climb steps up to the plane. Staff are usually helpful but it can be a hassle. Once I booked "assistance" at time of booking, where they (Virgin, I think) were going to take the bag and return it to me at boarding time. Did this work? No. I got to the airport and staff refused. Plus they were dismissive and rude. Mostly staff will help me by lifting the CPAP bag into overhead lockers, or other passengers help. No way I could do it myself!
    ekbg2002
    10th Jun 2017
    2:11pm
    The problem is in Australia, individual airlines take responsibility for passengers with a disability or those needing extra support, whereas overseas, the airport takes responsibility until on the plane. Several years ago, I looked up other Western Countries and the UNN and discovered Oz don't meet standards. Followed up with appropriate department and suggested major airports have a meet/greet at front doors of every second or third entrance for those with disability and letter from doctor, and who has let them know in advance. And that this was to be airport's responsibility, NOT each airline. The department were surprised when Melbourne Airport wanted to hold a meeting with top managers of the department. The only way they could get out of it was to say they didn't have the money - and this is exactly what they did! Google "UNN Manual on Access to Air Travel."
    You don't have to get on first and off last - this causes immense pain for me. I have pole danced whilst waiting for wheelchair (prebooked) rung four times to double check, even morning before flying and an hour gripping onto pole waiting for wheelchair. Once they put me in the wheelchair, placed my walker in front of me (which I was to push) as was going to oversized baggage, and had hubby pushing me. Oh how I wish in hindsight I had video'd it!
    ekbg2002
    10th Jun 2017
    2:12pm
    The problem is in Australia, individual airlines take responsibility for passengers with a disability or those needing extra support, whereas overseas, the airport takes responsibility until on the plane. Several years ago, I looked up other Western Countries and the UNN and discovered Oz don't meet standards. Followed up with appropriate department and suggested major airports have a meet/greet at front doors of every second or third entrance for those with disability and letter from doctor, and who has let them know in advance. And that this was to be airport's responsibility, NOT each airline. The department were surprised when Melbourne Airport wanted to hold a meeting with top managers of the department. The only way they could get out of it was to say they didn't have the money - and this is exactly what they did! Google "UNN Manual on Access to Air Travel."
    You don't have to get on first and off last - this causes immense pain for me. I have pole danced whilst waiting for wheelchair (prebooked) rung four times to double check, even morning before flying and an hour gripping onto pole waiting for wheelchair. Once they put me in the wheelchair, placed my walker in front of me (which I was to push) as was going to oversized baggage, and had hubby pushing me. Oh how I wish in hindsight I had video'd it!
    Funny face
    10th Jun 2017
    9:11pm
    Travelling with my late husband ( who used a walker) was a disastrous business in Australia! I was disgusted with all of them. Quantas and Virgin,

    However, last year I travelled to see friends in Egypt. I flew Emirates Airlines, I had wheelchair access all the way. Courtesy and respect from everyone. On board and on the ground. Those lovely people who pushed the wheelchair ( even if they had limited English) were marvellous! If I had to give Emirates a score I would give them 20 out of 10!
    Nan Norma
    11th Jun 2017
    10:26am
    Try this one for fun: Parents arrive in Sydney with three young children all, by law, needing car seats. Pre-booked car seats were not at the airport on their arrival. They had no strollers. Oh, and the rain was pouring down.
    SuziJ
    11th Jun 2017
    2:50pm
    I've frequently flown from Albury to Sydney & return. I have a disability which precludes me from climbing stairs. The airline provides me with a wheelchair from check-in to the plane and they use a hoist to board/disembark me. At Sydney, they usually take me in one of their motorised vehicles to/from the plane.

    For international flights there are wheelchairs available to take me from check-in thru security - I can stand up to go thru the body scanners, then a fresh wheelchair takes me from security to the lounge. From there a wheelchair to the door of the plane, and the same for the reverse on disembarkation and thru any stopover point.

    When I book my flights, I always have the requirements noted on my booking so that there's no confusion.

    On the flight, I'm able to use my fold-down walking stick. On the internal flights, I'm usually seated close to the rear of the plane and the toilets, too so it's not really an issue for me.

    I'm usually boarded first and disembarked last.


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