So recently we took a trip cross country for John’s Make-A-Wish. We were very nervous about flying since we read that nearly 2,000 wheelchairs were damaged over a 3 month period!!! (See this article)
So, we tried to come up with a solution we felt comfortable with to protect the wheelchair. Here is what we did…
A — We have a Permobil. Along the side of the seat is a rail that you can attach to. Just slide a nut into the rail and you can screw a bolt into the nut. As you can see in the picture, we attached an L-bracket to the rail. (Note, the holes in the L-bracket didn’t line up with the rail, so we had to drill a hole through the L-bracket.) So, we attached 2 L-brackets front and back and then we attached a 2×4 onto the two L-brackets.
B — We used bungy cords to keep the footrests in an upright position.
C — The cable to the joystick didn’t easily unplug. So what we did was pull the joystick off the armrest and put it inside a shoebox. We put bubble wrap all around the joystick. Then we used the seatbelt to hold it in place.
D — Here’s where the magic happens. We went to a place that makes iron railings and asked them to bend two bars for us. They also cut a straight piece for us to join the rods together. We bolted the bars onto the 2×4’s. We figured these would act as roll bars to help protect the wheelchair.
E — On the permobil, you can lift off the seat back easily. We lifted it off and took it into the plane with us. Then in our case, the wheelchair couldn’t be higher than 33″, so we tilted the back until it fit the regulations.
F — We also took off the seat cushion and brought it into the plane with us.
After we got everything in place, we put a cover over the whole thing to protect it from weather. (I just made the cover out of garbage bags that I duct-taped into the right size and shape.)
As far as procedure goes… John stayed in his wheelchair until we got to the gate. We carried everything we needed to work on the wheelchair. So, we had to send the wood, the metal bars, tools, nuts/bolts through security which was interesting. When we explained what it was for they let us through.
At the gate, we sat John in another chair and worked on taking the wheelchair apart. We definitely had to leave ample time to check in, get through security, and take the wheelchair apart. We had instructions on the chair for common things they asked about — battery type, weight, and how to unlock/lock the wheels. We talked with a technician about how to move the wheelchair and they took it away to load it on the plane. I think they liked the way we packaged the wheelchair because they felt it was safer and they didn’t have to worry about not damaging it.
All in all, we are very pleased. We traveled across the country and back and there was no damage to the wheelchair — which was the plan !!