An online survey for indivudals who fly on a commercial airlines with a wheelchair was completed by 695 individuals. The process of taking a trip on a commercial airlines was reported to have serious concerns including: transferring from a wheelchair and boarding the aircraft, sitting on the aircraft seat, stowing the wheelchair, and damage to the wheelchair. This session will provide an overview of the survey, results, and steps taken by airlines, wheelchair manufacturers, and consumer organizations in an effort to rectify some of the isses.
Objective: To assess the perceptions of air travel for people who use wheelchairs: Topics included: attitude of airport and airline staff, ticketing, boarding the aircraft, sitting on the aircraft seat, and stowage of a wheelchair.
Setting: The setting was an online survey available in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Participants: 695 participants aged 18-75 responded to the study. 88% were non-ambulatory. 90% used a wheelchair or scooter full-time for mobility. 67% were male. Participants represented a wide-range of disabilities including ALS, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, polio, spinal cord injury, stroke, and traumatic brain injury with over 60% having a spinal cord injury.
Interventions: The intervention was a 78-question survey which asked questions pertaining to air travel. Questions were multiple -choice with the opportunity for comment. Questions were classified into the following areas: flight history, attitude of airport and airline staff, ticketing, boarding the aircraft, sitting on the aircraft seat, and stowage of a wheelchair. Specifics related to boarding included safety, type of transfer, length of time in boarding chair, and stability while in boarding chair. Specifics to sitting on the aircraft chair included the need for a cushion, postural issues, and lavatory use during the flight. Stowage questions included: tagging, protection of the wheelchair, and incidents of loss or damage.
Main Outcome Measure(s): Multiple choice questions assessed using frequency. Yes/no dichotomy questions. Opportunity for comments.
Results: Choosing to Fly: 56.32% stated they did not fly due to lack of access to th elavatory, 60.98% stated they had concerns about wheelchair damage, 40.82% stated they felt there was inadequate assistance with boarding and transfers
Boarding chair: 46% did not fit body type, 55% unstable, 61% too narrow, 48% feet fell off, 8% fell off, 11% tipped over sideways, 72% stated they did NOT use a cushion on the boarding chair
Sitting in aircraft seat: 70% could not access lavatory, 26% experienced skin pressure issues, 45% experienced pain, 20% hurt by cart going down aisle, 10% slipped forward, 15% no leg support, 43% used a wheelchair cushion on the aircraft seat
Stowage: 72% checked wheelchair on jetway, 91% wheelchair was stored in underbelly of aircraft, 44% handler did not know how to manage wheelchair, 15% lost wheelchair, 57% damage to wheelchair
Attitude: 50% used people first language, 65% kind and courteous
Conclusions: People who use wheelchairs and travel on commercial airlines report significant issues throughout the process including: transferring and boarding the aircraft from the wheelchair, sitting on the aircraft, and stowing the wheelchair. While some individuals reported attitudinal porblems of airport/airline staff, 65% felt that the staff were kind and courteous. The research translation from these findings resulted in the formation of the RESNA Assistive Technology Air Travel Standards Committee, which is made up of people from the airline industry, wheelchair manufacturers, therapists, engineers, and consumer organizations such as United Spinal, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the National Disability Rights Network. The focus of the committee is to standardize ticketing procedures, tagging of the wheelchairs, and stowage procedures. Standardizations for wheelchair manufacturers to design and label wheelchairs specifically for successful travel on an aircraft is also a goal of this committee. Government organizations and groups such as AllWheelsUp are working closely in an effort to collaborate efforts to discuss the feasibility of aircraft design which would allow indivudals to sit in their wheelchiars throughout the flight, take-off, and landing.