When booking your flight, you will be asked if you can self-transfer or need assistance, but it might not be clear what it means – for many with SCI, this depends on the situation and how you’re feeling that day. Here’s a guide to what these options mean for airlines and how choosing them affects your trip.
Self-transfer and full assisted transfer are categories airlines use to determine what equipment you will need and how much help to offer when you are boarding your flight. Specifically, these options relate to the transfer from your chair to the aisle chair and the aisle chair to your seat on board the aircraft.
SELF TRANSFER: If you can move your body weight on your own, with a sliding board or help from a companion, you will be met just outside the aircraft on the ramp with airport staff and aisle chair/Washington chair. Airline staff will help make the transfer to and from the Washington chair as easy as possible, but will expect you can shift your body weight from one seat to the other. Staff will help secure your legs and arms, and fasten safety belts across you to keep you stable.
ASSISTANCE TO TRANSFER: If you need assistance to transfer from one seat to another, many airlines now use a patient hoist modified for the narrow aircraft aisle, designed to prevent workplace injuries. A specially-trained team will meet you at the gate and use a powered portable patient lift designed for the narrow aircraft aisle to get you from your wheelchair to your seat on board. Airline staff will assist you to don the sling under your body, and then carefully lift you out of your chair, steer the lift down the aircraft aisle, to your seat. The most commonly used model is the Eagle 2 Lift by Australian company Haycomp Ltd., which uses a modified sling similar to what is used on hoyer lifts. Know your sling size and make sure airport staff use the right one for you.
An in-flight aisle wheelchair is available to assist you to use the onboard bathroom. These aisle chairs are smaller, foldable and less stable than the Washington Chair. This chair is operated by flight attendants, and many have no experience with operating it with an actual passenger. Keep calm, let them know what help you need. It’s useful to know that there is a fold-down footplate on all of these chairs that are often forgotten when they are deployed – don’t be afraid to mention it before you transfer to protect your feet while in use.