Booking my flight
I managed to get a nonstop flight from San Francisco with lay-flat seats. Having the least amount of stops possible is the safest thing for your chair (the more flights, the more chances they have to break it). If you must have connections, avoid small planes wherever possible. Allow an hour longer layover.
I have to get a lay-flat seat because I can’t hold my body upright for more than 2-3 hours. Getting a milage credit card and using miles is really helpful in paying for the upgrade. This way about every other trip is paid in miles, and I pay full fare the other half. I have gotten “gold” status which has some helpful perks. I fly United because it has the best miles program and is one of the better rated ones for not breaking chairs as often. Sticking to the same airline and racking up points really helps you afford the “disability tax” of having to get business class seats.
Prepping the Wheelchair for Flight (steps ahead of leaving the house)
I went to United.com and searched “wheelchair” and got to this page. I answered the questions for the wheelchair form and printed two copies (one for return). I think I will actually get someone to translate this into French and make a French copy for the return and include it. I also made sure that United knows I am traveling with my chair (you can call and make sure it is in your reservation). Other airlines have similar procedures- search their websites.
I also make my own print out that includes my phone number and please to the handlers “Please Take Care of this Highly specialized and hard to rent/replace wheelchair it give me my life back” as well as photos of where the on/off switch and brakes are with big red arrows pointing at them in the picture
At the actual gate I do other things, for which I bring packing tape.
Booking a Hotel
I booked through Wheel the World. You set up a profile and it offers hotels… but watch out! I put “wheelchair” in my profile and “no steps” and it offered me hotels with steps either into the room or from outside. It does at least show you this in the hotel profile though. When you pick your hotel, you then get an email exchange with an agent to help you book. She was able to call the hotel and confirm details with me.
I needed to have a tub, and the normal ADA rooms only have showers. This meant checking the door measurements on the regular rooms. The outside door of the room was wide enough, the bathroom door was not, but for me this was ok. The agent from WheeltheWorld asked them all the questions for me and confirmed everything.
We are traveling with our daughter and that meant the king room with the rollaway option was what we wanted… but then there was not room for the chair. Paris rooms are very small, even in the nicest hotels. We had to get a suite to make sure the chair would fit.
I spent the extra money to be as close as I could get to the majority of the things I wanted to see so as to minimize cab rides or bus rides (the buses are accessible, but the metro is basically not). I figure given that, the price difference might even out.
Cab from Airport to the Hotel
G7 Taxi has an app for your phone and you can select accessible vehicles and book in advance. I recommend booking ahead for the airport to and from.
I booked a room ahead at a Disneyland hotel. It comes with park tickets. If you book the hotel you get to book restaurants in the parks months in advance (before non-hotel guests, who can book 2 months out). Accessible rooms are not listed online. I booked a regular room and then called to change it. There is a US phone number (407-828-4554) on their site you can call with any questions, but it is only open in the morning (until 10ish?) to stay on Paris time.
You may need to get a disability access card. There are several tiers of cards and they determine what you need with the information you provide.
You will need to provide one of these both scanned and sent in advance and in person (no photos, only originals):
- Disability card issued by the US Department of Veterans Affairs
- Parking Card for Disabled People
- Other official disability documents issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- VA Disability Compensation Benefits
- Parking Badge; permanent or temporary
- Access pass : America The Beautiful
I am using my disabled parking permit paper proof of permit (the one you are supposed to put in your glove box if you have a placard or license plate). I was asked to bring my placard but I lost it and will take a picture of my license plate. I am also bringing a doctors note saying which disability I have (which should get me the top tier?). There is a list of accepted chrinic diseases. The person I spoke with on the phone says the doctor’s note should say “my patient _______ has number 9. disability “Severe neurological and muscular disorders”, but should not go into any more detail. My understanding is that the placard paperword will work alone but the more paper the better (might give you higher tier access?). But the doctor’s note alone is not enough. You can apply up to 30 days before your visit. You must bring the physical paperwork with you as well, no photos.
If you want to go it is wheelchair accessible but you need to email them ahead to let them know what day you are coming and provide reservation information.
When I board the plane I will do my usual precautions for traveling with my chair, with the text in both English and French.