And let’s add, they get off last. Moreover, not only wheelchair users, but also the elderly, families with children and people with reduced mobility have the opportunity to get into the plane about 10-15 minutes in front of everyone. Annoying, not understandable? Let’s look at the WHY?:
Air transportation, contrary to the information of the companies, has never been, and to this day it is not accessible, for the ones in need. The space constraints, which are typical of a passenger plane, significantly limit any full accessibility, but since the companies’ profits would be significantly affected by the creation of possible extra spaces, they were not even interested in it.
Traveling in a wheelchair is a multi-level challenge. When you get into the plane, you lose control of your most important aid, you don’t know how it’s going to be handled, what’s going to go wrong with it, will it arrive at the next stop at all?! Airlines have only limited liability for checked medical equipment, with the maximum compensation set at the same amount as for other baggage. The price of a complex wheelchair can be up to several million HUF, but if it is lost or damaged, the compensation is only possible up to a maximum of HUF 600,000, of course, this is also only after playing several heavyweight arm-wrestle matches.
How does a boarding happen if you use your own wheelchair? It is not up to the airlines to help with this, airports employ specialized companies to assist passengers in need. Thus, the standard of service varies from airport to airport. Budapest Airport has particularly good reviews in this regard.
You can’t travel on the plane in your own wheelchair. When boarding, a wheelchair specially adapted to the size of the plane is brought and the passenger must be transferred to it or lifted with assistance. If he or she needs to be lifted, the passenger is fastened with several straps to the chair, similar to Hannibal Lechter from the movie The Silence of the Lambs, in fact, only the muzzle is missing from the whole picture.
Why are we getting in the first place? Not primarily to protect ourselves from the embarrassment of various awkward postures. But most importantly, the helpers have to pull the special chair that just fits in the corridor of the plane, just as they pushed it in, out of the plane, which is not possible with hundreds of people standing behind them in a narrow space where they, too, can barely fit. Well that’s it!
There are also cases when you travel somewhere with several connections, and due to the tight time at the transfer, you can’t reach the gate at least a quarter of an hour before boarding. In this case, the passenger in a wheelchair is the last to board.
And when you get off, it plays backwards. The wheelchair passenger is the last to leave the plane, often after long minutes and sometimes up to three-quarters of an hour after everyone else. Unfortunately, the post-Covid labor shortage is also noticeable at airports, so there is not enough staff to serve the suddenly increased number of passengers and you have to wait.
In summary, you can fly and should fly with disabilities, and anyone who was once struck by the smell of kerosene will travel as long as they can, but we must always be prepared, know the process, as well as our rights if anything happens during the trip.
Thanks to our highly experienced association member Zoltán Borsodi for the description!