11 Paralympic Gold Medals, over 30 World Records, 6 Times Winner London Marathon...
Hi, I'm Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. My wheelchair is critically important to me as it lets me achieve the things I want to in life and its just the same for users of electric wheelchairs and scooters.
In this video we will show how you can help ensure that electric mobility aids are not only carried safely, but arrive in one piece.
Under European law (as retained (and amended in UK domestic law) under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018), passengers that are disabled or have difficulty moving around for example due to their age or a temperate injury are entitled to receive assistance when flying to and from Europe including domestic flights.
When a passenger wishes to travel by air with an electric mobility aid the processes of all involved need to be coordinated. We will achieve together as team, or not at all.
The law affects the whole of the air travel process not just the flight itself and so covers booking the flights arriving at the airport, checking in, getting on and off the plane and leaving the airport.
Tour operators and travel agents have to pass on details of a passenger's needs to airlines, and they in turn must inform airports of the assistance the passenger requires.
The airlines must provide details of electrically powered mobility aids to the people at the airport who have to make sure they are made safe for carriage by air.
The airline must also ensure load planners are provided with accurate weights to ensure the aircraft is loaded safely.
With so many people involved communication is essential.
Remember: One team, one goal!
Clearly if a mobility aid is too big to fit through the aircraft's hold door it can't be carried.
For a longer journey the first sector could be on a Boeing 747 whilst the next could be on a small regional aircraft. These aircraft are obviously very different. Also, if instructions on how to prevent the inadvertent operation of an electric mobility aid are not available this too will prevent carriage of the device.
Boccia is a sport played by disabled athletes. It is much like the French game 'Boule'.
It's a target sport game with a jack ball and the person that gets the closest ball to the Jack scores points. Great Britain were gold medalists in Beijing. Hopefully we shall do well at the London Games!
The chair is the big thing for us. We have to imagine it's almost their life-support system. If we get to a venue and there's a problem with the chair they can't compete so that's the end of their tournament.
Whether it's a travel agent or dealing directly with the airline, we provide as much information as we can.
The chair is a critical part of their equipment and they need to arrive and have confidence that their chair will be undamaged.
MATT: Hello, I'm calling from the Great Britain Boccia Squad
to request special assistance for the group travelling to Oslo.
AIRLINE: Okay do you have the booking reference please?
MATT: Yes, the reference is BB67XY....
Narrator: giving plenty of notice of passenger needs will identify any potential problems with carrying electric mobility aids in good time, so it really is in the passenger's best interest to pre-notify the airline of their requirements.
AIRLINE: Will any of the group be travelling with electric wheelchairs?
AIRLINE: Okay I will need to take some details please...
I now have details of the special assistance required, seven of the team will be travelling with electric power chairs so I'll have to check whether suitable information about the devices has been published.
The British Healthcare Trades Association maintains a log of the information needed to check whether an electric mobility aid can be carried and to prepare it for safe carriage prior to loading on board the aircraft.
This log is published on the BHTA website and details the tare, or unoccupied weight of the electric mobility aid; its dimensions, the number and type of batteries for example, wet acid, non-spillable or lithium and instructions for preventing accidental activation.
Whilst the Log details the dimensions of each device, power chairs in particular are often fitted with specialised seating systems to meet the needs of the individual user.
Electric mobility aids can also have optional fixed or removable head rests.
We therefore need to ask the passenger whether any optional seating system or head rest is fitted. If there is, we need to ask for the actual height measurement of the mobility aid and whether any headrest can be removed or lowered by airport staff. This may be necessary to reduce the height of the device to enable it to be loaded onto the aircraft.
If an electric mobility aid is not listed on the BHTA Log details will need to be obtained from the passenger.
AIRLINE: I now have details of all the electric power chairs and can pass the details on to our load controllers.
Had the booking included flights with our partner airlines I would also need to pass the details of the electric power chairs on to them.
LOAD CONTROLLER: when deciding whether we can carry an electric mobility aid we consider the size and limitations of our aircraft. It could be going out on a Boeing 747, then onboard an Airbus 319 so we need to look into the limitation of each aircraft on each sector, outbound and inbound.
First of all it must be checked that the device can physically fit through the aircraft's hold door. If it's too big, it can't be carried.
It is also vital to ensure that aircraft hold limitations are not exceeded. In the hold of the aircraft, the weight of the mobility aid is transmitted down through its wheels and tires onto the floor panels which places a stress on the aircraft structure. This is fine providing this is within the limitations defined by the aircraft manufacturer however, over stressing can cause hugely expensive damage and as vital systems such as control cables can be located beneath the floor the safety of the aircraft could be compromised.
Generally, cargo and baggage each have a reasonably large areas in contact with the floor through which their load is distributed. By comparison, an electric mobility aid transmits its load through a much smaller floor contact area.
A mobility aid that weights 85 Kg may have a footprint of less than 1 ft2. However, many aircraft have a limitation of 68 kilos per ft2. In this example the aircraft loading limitations would be exceeded so the mobility aid needs to be placed on load spreading material of sufficient length and width to distribute the weight over an area that is allowable.
Instructions on how the loading staff must achieve this should be included in aircraft loading instructions.
Also, in the interests of flight safety airlines must accurately calculate the mass and balance condition of the aircraft.
Mass and balance calculations must take the tare or unoccupied weight of all mobility aids and spreader boards into account. This ensures that the load is safety distributed on the aircraft and enables flight crew to be provided with critical information needed to configure the aircraft controls so that the aircraft behaves in a predictable manner in all phases of flight.
Electric mobility aids must be protected from damage and so at the load planning stage it is preferable to plan to load them into a netted compartment without other baggage or cargo.
This will also assist loading teams as they should have better access to a greater number of anchor points for restraint purposes.
Similarly, for containerised operations where possible electric mobility aids should be assigned unit load devices without other baggage or cargo.
The load controllers have confirmed that we can carry all the electric power chairs so I've updated the booking with the appropriate IATA wheelchair codes. There are IATA codes for both manual and electric mobility aids including those with non-spillable, wet cell or lithium batteries installed.
Now this information has been added to the booking, it can be used by the load planners when finalising the aircraft loading instructions.
A passenger assistance list or 'PAL' has also been created which notifies the airport of departure of the special assistance the passengers require.
For each passenger travelling with an electric mobility aid, the IATA wheelchair code has been recorded. The 'PAL' also includes the appropriate special service request or 'SSR' code to indicate what assistance is needed for the passenger to board the aircraft and take their seat.
There are three codes: WCHR a passenger who can walk up and down steps and move about in the aircraft cabin but who requires a wheelchair through the terminal to the aircraft
WCHS: a passenger who can't walk up or down steps but can move about in the aircraft cabin. They too require a wheelchair through the terminal to the aircraft door.
and WCHC: a passenger who is completely immobile who can move about only with the help of a wheelchair and who requires assistance at all times from arrival at the airport to seating in the aircraft.
International requirements exist to ensure electric mobility aids can be safely carried by air and how this is done depends on the type of battery which is fitted for all types battery terminals must be protected against short-circuit installed batteries must be securely attached to the mobility aid and electric mobility aids must be protected against unintentional activation.
Mobility aids with spillable batteries must be loaded and kept upright at all times however if this is not possible perhaps because of the height of the hold ceiling batteries must be removed and packed in strong leak-proof packagings with enough absorbant material to absorb all of the acid should it leak. The package must bear the corrosive hazard warning label.
Batteries must be removed from an electric mobility aid that is specifically designed to allow this for ease of transport. For example if the device is collapsible.
Non-spillable batteries removed from such a device must be carried in strong rigid packagings which must be stowed in the hold.
Removed lithium-ion batteries must be carried in the passenger cabin and be protected from short-circuit and damage.
Batteries must not exceed 300 Watt-hours. A maximum of one additional spare battery not exceeding 300 Watt -hours or two spares each not exceeding 160 Watt-hours may be carried. These must also be carried in the cabin. For batteries manufactured after 2011 the Watt-hour rating will be marked on the outside case.
The Pilot-In-Command must be notified of the loading location of any mobility aid fitted with a wet acid or lithium-ion battery any non-spillable battery removed from a collapsible device and stowed in the hold and any lithium battery removed from a collapsible device and stowed in the cabin.
In 2008 ground staff offloading a passenger aircraft noticed blue sparks coming from a battery powered wheelchair. It was quickly removed onto a baggage belt where it immediately burst into flames and was destroyed.
The electric circuit had not been protected from operation and during flight baggage probably moved the joystick control engaging the motor causing friction or electrical load to ignite the wheelchair.
There are many different types of mobility aids, often specific to the end-user's requirements.
Power chairs are often intended for long-term usage to alleviate medical conditions and provide postural support.
Seating systems and headrests are often configured for the specific user and this is why it is essential to ask the passenger whether these can be removed for air travel.
Some may be bolted to the backrest of the chair. As you can see, the batteries on this device are fully enclosed by the casing which protects the terminals from short-circuit.
Older devices may have exposed terminals which must be protected for example by using insulation tape.
It is very difficult to move an electric mobility aid when the drive system is engaged. This may also damage the motors or braking system.
All powered wheelchairs and scooters have a free-wheel mechanism allowing the product to be pushed and manoeuvred as required. There should be labels showing how this is selected. On a power chair this may be done by pushing levers up like so or by rotating a lever like so. There will be a lever for each drive wheel.
The free wheel mechanism should be disengaged after loading and at any other time the device is to be left unattended.
Switching off a power chair may not prevent accidental activation. Even with the best efforts of loading staff to properly secure loads there is the potential for baggage or cargo to move in flight and this may accidentally switch devices back on.
The circuits must therefore be inhibited. The easiest and quickest way to inhibit circuits is by inserting an Airsafe Plug into the charging socket. This makes the device think it's being charged and so inhibits it from driving even if the on switch is actuated accidentally. If no Airsafe plug is available it's necessary to break the power supply between the batteries and the electronic controller. This is achieved by separating or unplugging power cables as specified by the manufacturer.
Connectors like these may be located under the seat or under a shroud near the batteries. They are separated by gently squeezing and pulling each side apart. On some products cables plug directly into the body of the power chair or into the joystick controller. Most connectors and plugs are shrouded to protect the terminals inside from any short circuit but if you find any exposed terminals protect these with insulation tape.
The BHTA log explains how the appropriate cable plug or connector is found for each power chair listed.
This is a scooter free-wheel is selected by moving a lever in an upward or downward movement as indicated by the labelling on the device. If the scooter has a key to activate it turn to the OFF position remove the key and give it to the passenger for safekeeping otherwise to inhibit the circuit insert an Airsafe plug or separate the cable connector nearest the battery and protect any exposed terminals.
Lifting equipment should be used when loading heavier mobility aids. When positioning in the aircraft only handle power chairs and scooters using an accessible structural part of the frame. Regardless of battery type power chairs and scooters should not be stowed on their sides as this can cause damage that might prevent use of the aid upon arrival.
Under European law (as retained (and amended in UK domestic law) under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) the carriage of electric mobility aids is subject to 48 hours notice.
If a passenger cannot provide the pre-notification for example if they need to travel at short notice the airport and the airline must make all reasonable efforts to provide the special assistance to enable the passenger to travel.
Passengers who have not pre-notified will typically announce their intention to travel with an electric mobility aid at the check-in desk. However if a passenger should first announce this to the service provider for Persons of Reduced Mobility or 'PRMs' for example if they checked in online and have no checked baggage the service provider should notify the airline through it's check-in staff.
If the device is not listed on the BHTA log suitable written information should be sought from the passenger or an accompanying carer if applicable. The details obtained must be checked for compliance with the airline's aircraft limitations.
If an airline is unable to satisfy itself that an electric mobility aid may be carried safely it's carriage must be denied.
The boccia team are checking in for their flight to Norway where they will compete in the Boccia Europa Cup.
Using the information obtained earlier airline staff have prepared a tag for each electric mobility aid detailing the instructions for making it safe for carriage. Staff then check that the electric mobility aid is the model they were expecting and attach the tag to the device. The destination airport is made aware of the need to reactivate the electric mobility aids and provide any other special assistance required.
As the boccia team prepare to board the aircraft PRM service staff check the tag for instructions on making the electric mobility aid safe for carriage. The actions should be quite easy to follow but the passenger can be asked for advice if needed.
If there remains any doubt that the electric mobility aid is safe for carriage this should be referred to a supervisor or airline staff.
Once the necessary steps have been taken PRM service staff sign the tag to confirm that the electric mobility aid has been made safe for carriage.
Prior to loading the Loading Supervisor should check that inadvertent operation of the device has been prevented. This can be achieved by seeing if the mobility aid will power up and whether use of the joystick results in the mobility aid moving.
We must also be alert to obvious signs that exposed battery terminals have not been protected from short-circuit.
If a device has not been made safe it must not be loaded and it will then be necessary to liaise with the airport's PRM service staff in order to fix the problem. If all is okay, the Loading Supervisor signs each electric mobility aid tag to record that the gross error checks have been completed.
A carbon copy of each tag is removed and kept on the flight file. Special instructions or SI's provided on the loading instruction report detail the planned loading location of each mobility aid by reference to its baggage tag number.
The instructions also indicate that these wheelchairs are to be secured on spreader boards inside the Unit Load Devices.
All loads within aircraft holds must be secured to prevent movement. whether they are to be containerised or bulk loaded. By using the seat track or anchor points available restraint must be achieved appropriate to the required load factors in all directions.
If the load planners have found it necessary to stow baggage or cargo in the same compartment or Unit Load Device, the electric mobility aid should be individually secured and must be protected from damage by separately tying and and lashing the baggage and cargo. In addition to preventing damage to the mobility aid proper restraint will eliminate load shift - a very real danger to flight safety.
With the loading and documentation in order the team's flight is good to go!
Upon arrival at Oslo the electric mobility aids are taken to the airbridge where airport staff reactivate the devices by reversing the instructions detailed on the tags. As everyone has successfully played their part the boccia team can now play theirs at the Europa Cup!
In this video you've been shown how you can help ensure that electric mobility aids are carried safely and arrive in one piece.
Whether you work for a tour operator or in reservations load planning, check-in, PRM assistance or as an aircraft loader;
YOU are an important part of the team and it's important you play your part.
To achieve our goal it is vital to obtain information on how to prepare the electric mobility aid for safe carriage; check that it will fit through the aircraft's hold doors; provide confirmation to the passenger that special assistance has been arranged; pass on the information on how to prepare the electric mobility aids to everyone who needs to know; only load electric mobility aids when they've been made safe for carriage; comply with load spreading requirements; secure to prevent movement; prevent damage from other baggage or cargo and finally if you have any doubts ASK!
Remember: One team, one goal!