No disassemble #5! Redux

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2009/07/21 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

This blog has its roots (obviously) in its predecessor (No disassemble #5!).

In that blog I described the method I had been using to safely transport myself and the iBot all over the country. And by safely I mean safely for the iBot, circumventing many of the horror stories of air travel that so many people had been telling of baggage claim personnel had vistited upon their iBots as I have been able to get through so many slights unscathed....

But then, in a comment to Confessions of an iBot riding fool...., Nancy Nelson was looking for a lot more details on this:

When you get a chance, would you please send me step-by-step instructions of how you travel on an airplane with your iBOT.  I haven't traveled by air since my last exacerbation left me unable to walk more than a couple of feet, and I have never put the iBOT on an airplane.

Do you travel alone or with someone?

How do you deal with your luggage?

Do you also travel with a manual chair or walker?  If so how do you deal with all the extra equipment?

What do you mean by planeside?  Does the airline actually allow you onto the tarmac?

How do you get to and from the restroom on an airplane?

Once you get to your destination, how do you get your iBOT, luggage from baggage claim, etc. and then manage to get to ground transportation?

The airlines have really screwed-up my manual chair in the past.  I have always checked my chair at the gate.  I can't imagine what I would do if the airlines severely damaged or destroyed my iBOT.  However, vacations are just not much fun without the BOT.

Thanks -- Nancy

Very good questions!

I think I'll take the individual questions first....

Do you travel alone or with someone?

I have, generally speaking, been traveling alone.

Most of the later questions will reflect this; if traveling with someone, many of the steps are easier.

How do you deal with your luggage?

For shorter trips, I have kept myself limited to two bags, one of them holding my laptop -- so that I could carry them both on the plane. I usually include my spare iBot charger in a third bag that I leave on the iBot itself, and have never yet had anyone question the need to carry this in a separate bag and have never been charged any penalty or had any other problems with this approach.

Of course that is not Nancy's actual question; I have carefully but intentionally misunderstood her here so I could mention the above. Her actual question was a wider one related to how do I manage the luggage situation in general, from home to destination and back.

For those shorter trips, I simply make sure that the two (or three) bags all fit on the iBot itself; two of them simply get put over the top of the big bar on the back so that I can either easily get them off myself while staying in the chair, or else easily direct someone from TSA to take the bag(s) off the back.

As a rule I go through security in balance mode; this amuses and interests the TSA folk and I have seldom felt relegated to the hell of being ignored in a wheelchair which seems so easy to do when one is not in something that people can't help but stare at. People notice. And they help.

This does require some extra care since it will almost certainly change the center of gravity of the iBot. The principal difference I have noted when the bags are heavy enough is that the transition to balance happens automatically when the chair tilts backward (usually I would have to throw the joystick forward as the final step). Although this felt unsettling the first few times it happened I got used to it quickly and have been doing a lot of training in various weight configurations so I can feel comfortable with how the iBot compensates.

The habit of carrying people in my lap and on occasionally letting someone on roller skates catch a ride from me has also been helpful here -- it gets me used to a wider variety of situations to better understand how the iBot does its work under these different conditions.

Catching a ride... 

I feel like I have a much better understanding of my iBot than I ever would have had otherwise....

On the rare occasions that I have had to take a bag to check that would not fit on the back of the iBot or rarely in my lap, I used a roller bag that I could handle using my non-joystick hand and whose handle I could reach easily. Now this part does require some extra coordination as it removes any way to carry anything else -- so if there was a door or an elevator button or whatever I have to be able to stop, let go of it, perform the action, and then grab the handle again. But generally the trip toward the airport has very little of those inconveniences, and the only real challenges are getting out of baggage claim and handling elevators once I have landed. I just work very deliberately, and the only time I get out of balance mode is waiting at the baggage carousel. This makes it easier for people to not miss seeing me....

Do you also travel with a manual chair or walker?  If so how do you deal with all the extra equipment?

I never travel with a manual chair or a walker, though I occasionally travel with a foldable cane.

On one occasion for a Los Angeles trip I traveled with a foldable ramp, suitable for loading the iBot onto a van without a lift. Although this was a very heavy item, I carried it in my non-joystick hand and checked it, and then rented a Ryder panel van at the destination. Since the daily rental price of that vehicle is less than a single typical accessible taxi ride in LA, this was well worth the extra effort.

Obviously if one is traveling with someone, such issues are easier to deal with!

What do you mean by planeside?  Does the airline actually allow you onto the tarmac?

I mean gate check, though they let me travel down the jetway to the edge of the plane and in places like the Burbank airport (where Alaska has no jetways) they let me roll to the side of the plane, on the tarmac. Though in those situations they let everyone out there during boarding....

I take the legrests off and put them in the seat before folding the chairback down. Sometimes I stick the UCP in there too, sometimes I stick it in my bag, either way it is safely surrounded by lots of protective layers.

How do you get to and from the restroom on an airplane?

I do my best to try and get into first class and then use the cane to get there; on the occasions I could not do this I get into row 6 (the first coach row) and they let me use the restrooms in first class given the situation. I am always sure to mention it to a flight attendant beforehand so they know why but the cane pretty much makes it a non-issue and they have no trouble with it.

Once you get to your destination, how do you get your iBOT, luggage from baggage claim, etc. and then manage to get to ground transportation?

Okay, some of this I have covered already but the additional points are important....

Since I checked it planeside it is delivered planeside. As soon as we land I identify to a flight attendant that I have a powered wheelchair checked planeside, and I make a special request.

I ask them to tell the baggage handlers don't assemble the iBot AT ALL as I want to do it myself.

The horror stories I hear have usually been about something broken by an overzealous baggage handler, so I always take this extra step.

Note that once the chair arrives (usually after everyone is off the plane, this is the one inconvenient part about the iBot is that one wait), I put it together and get all my bags on it. Then I put myself in 4-wheel mode there at the side of the plane and into balance mode as soon as I am on level ground.

Now I find that getting to ground transportation to be the one place where extra elevators and such are an issue, as I mentioned before.

Ok, I guess that is it for now, though I'll be happy to take the next batch of questions in another blog. :-)

Special thanks to Lexi Belle who served as the model in the art above; she told me afterward that the ride was a lot of fun!

# Igor Levicki on 2 Aug 2009 12:19 PM:

Wow... Lexi Belle... was she also sitting in your lap? I bet that part was more fun ;-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Aug 2009 2:19 AM:

That is my facebook profile picture at the moment, and yes it was fun. But she has competition there.... :-)

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