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18th February, 2022

“Taking the Whill abroad for the first time” Georgina’s blog

Well, there’s no crazier way to start the new year than by partaking in a rather last minute flight to a new country. Everything happened within the span of a few days and suddenly I was on a plane to Lithuania. Now travelling as an able bodied person often comes with stress itself, travelling as a wheelchair user certainly comes with some extra stress. On every flight I’ve taken a wheelchair on, my chair has come back with some level of damage, the last time it was completely broken beyond repair and that was just my manual wheelchair. Now I have my incredible and precious powered Whill chair so there was definitely higher stakes.

I was incredibly worried that my Whill would get damaged but I couldn’t let that worry stop me from taking the chance and opportunity. It’s incredibly frustrating that wheelchair users have to go through so much stress and worry that their lifeline to living and independence is at risk of being damaged every time they take a flight. I’ve unfortunately heard way too many times about peoples chairs being broken and then experiencing it for myself was devastating. But, that being said, can’t let that stop me from trying again because if I let that worry take over, I wouldn’t travel again or be able to experience a new country from my own independent perspective. Im very pleased to report that on both flights, the Whill came back damage free. To help this happen there was a few steps I took:

  • Firstly, I contacted TGA for their powered wheelchair/scooter passport that I filled out with all the important information and attached to my chair along with the Whill’s flight documents that came with the purchase of the chair. This contained instructions for me to take the battery out and onto the plane with me in hand luggage. It also contained instructions for how to use the brakes.
  • With the help of my family, we turned an old pair of welly socks into arm covers that protected the arm plates. We also used a suitcase strap to keep the back of the seat folded down safely and securely which in return would protect the cushions.
  • Everybody who had contact with the chair from checking-in to special assistance, I made sure to inform them of my worries and how to operate the chair.
  • At check-in in both Luton London and Vilnius Lithuania, another document were filled out by a staff member to document the wheelchair and its specifications.
  • Because it was a last minute flight, we didn’t get chance to communicate fully with the airlines but it is recommend to do so. However, it was made aware to the airlines that I’m a wheelchair user, a battery powered wheelchair will be coming on the plane and that I would need assistance. This was also then written on our tickets and boarding passes. We were logged into their system for the assistance which made everything smoother.

From check-in to on board the plane was a well thought through and quick procedure in both countries. Special assistance led us through security, baggage and passport control. I stayed seated to get through all so that meant I’d have a pat down and swab instead of walking through the metal detector. All the staff were super helpful and friendly. We used the lift up to the side of the plane instead of the stairs and that’s where I left my chair for it to be then be put in the baggage hold. The flights themselves were the best short haul flights I’ve done. Normally they can make me feel quite ill but I’ve figured out that putting my headphones in and reducing as much external mind stimulation is the way forward as I were just able to relax and even fall asleep. It felt like a blink of an eye from takeoff to landing.

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania was our home for a few days and I don’t know what I expected from the city but it certainly wasn’t what I expected. It was aptly nicknamed, Old Town, and it was so pretty. It was so clean, quiet, bright and was home to many impressive buildings. With it being a country in Eastern Europe and also in winter time, it was certainly rather cold but we had prepared for that. We were even lucky to get a few little snow flurries. One thing I must say about this city is that because its old, a lot of the streets have narrow paths, mildly uneven surfaces and yes, of course streets purely of cobbles. That being said, I knew that going into visiting so I was slightly able to prep myself for the shake. It was such an awesome feeling getting to explore a new city abroad from my Whill which performed perfectly as I expected. We took a wheelchair accessible gondola up to the Gediminas Castle Tower and were able to have almost a 360° view of the city which was so beautiful even if it were highly windy up at the top. It was surprising to see nobody else using a mobility aid whilst we were over there. No wheelchairs, crutches, mobility scooters…this definitely led to a lot of people looking at my chair. Even more so than usual but in a way that it looked like some of the kids had never seen a wheelchair before. A lot of the shops did have stepped entrance but some had a second entrance that where accessible and not hidden round the back however we didn’t really do many of the shops. We were too busy exploring and taking in the sights but we did maybe try out some Lithuanian vanilla ice cream even if it were an already cold day, it was delicious though.

Travelling while still under covid procedures I thought would be more trying than what it actually were. Don’t get me wrong, it added some more paperwork to travelling but I feel like we fell quite lucky and although we ended up doing four covid tests over the span of a few days, it’s understood in this current environment and I’d rather be safe. The wearing of a mask for eight hours straight on the way home did seem like a long time and both me and my mum who joined me on this little adventure were very much ready to take a breath of London air in when we arrived back into England.

Overall this trip was a crazy good way to start off 2022 and without my Whill and TGA, it’d have been a completely different experience. So there we go, my Whill has officially made its maiden voyage over seas and tried out different country with great success. Can’t wait to experience more firsts with my chair and see where it takes me next.

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