Saturday, February 22, 2014

Travel Experiences...

How many disabled children do you think have flown interstate before?  A lot you would think, right?  Well it always seems like Lyla is the one and only.  The drama I have experienced trying to book flights, get approval for oxygen and sort out seating options for her is ridiculous! 

Lyla has flown interstate 3 times - Sydney at 12 months old, Melbourne  at 1 1/2 years and then a few days ago to Melbourne at just over 2 years of age.  The first time we travelled I wanted to take Lyla's oxygen with her, I had no idea how she would be on the plane, therefore I wanted it on hand just incase.  We flew with QANTAS and they had a very simple medical form that needed to be filled out, and on the days of travel we had no hassles.  

The second trip we flew with Tiger (rookie mistake) to Melbourne, once again I wanted to take her oxygen, but getting approval was hard.  I sent them a medical certificate which contained everything that the QANTAS medical certificate required eg. Lyla's condition, her symptoms, the oxygen tank size, the oxygen flow she needs if it was required, her carer (me), our travel dates, etc. but it wasn't approved.  I spent hours on the phone trying to sort this out, and I was being really annoying because they were being unreasonable.  Apparently all that was missing was a sentence that said "Lyla is safe to travel from such and such date, until such and such date".  I argued this because the medical certificate was filled out by Lyla's paediatrician, it included our flight details, including travel dates, and it was signed by him.  If she wasn't safe to travel it wouldn't be signed, right?  In the end I told them where to shove it and decided not to take the oxygen.  

And then most recently, Melbourne.  I knew that once a child turns 2 years of age they are required to pay for a seat and sit in it with a lap belt, this would be impossible for Lyla.  So before booking flights, and this was a 'last minute' trip, I called a couple of airlines to see what their seating options were for disabled children.  The options were a specialized CARES restraint, which I knew wouldn't work because of her kyphoscoliosis, limited neck support, tolerance and safety.  The next option was taking a car seat on the plane, and final option was a medical certificate which would have to say why Lyla cannot physically sit because she is disabled and it would be safe for her to travel on my lap, like a child under the age of 2 would do.  This was my preferred option, but I knew I wouldn't have the time to have a certificate filled out, sent off to the airline and approved, all before booking flights.  So car seat it was.  We ended up booking a flight to Melbourne with QANTAS, and back to Adelaide with Virgin.  Before booking, and after booking, I called the airlines to inform them I was taking a car seat in flight for Lyla and I went through all the safety checks with them, but ended up having to switch to an earlier QANTAS flight because the original plane didn't allow car seats.  It was all good...

That was until we arrived at Adelaide airport.  It took about 1 hour to have Lyla's car seat approved at check-in, but we managed to sort it out and had a few minutes spare before boarding.  We were let on the flight first so I could install the car seat.  We were on the very last row and we had all 3 seats in the aisle.  I asked the air hostess if it mattered which seat the car seat was on, to which she replied "You are meant to install the car seat" I said I will but I needed to know which seat it goes on, because it will obviously need an anchor point, she then told me to "Calm down".  My blood was about to boil, I cannot stand people like this.  She walked off in a huff and another air hostess came to help, I explained the situation, my ability to install the car seat myself, and I asked if she knew where the anchor point was.  Turns out they didn't, but an engineer came on and pulled the extension belt out from under the seat, which is what I needed to hook the car seat on to.  Easy. 

The day we left Melbourne, after the orthopaedic appointment, we decided to go to the airport early, have a coffee and look in the stores.  We arrived at the airport 2.5 hours early, and went to check our luggage in straight away.  We were flying Virgin this time.  I told the check in lady we were taking the car seat in flight and once again explained our situation, she said there was a note in the itinerary explaining this, but she was only new, so had not approved a car seat before so called the supervisor to check it.  The supervisor had never seen a car seat being used in flight either.  I had to explain I called Virgin and they suggested to use the car seat and that I went through all the safety checks with them and it was all approved.  After about 45 minutes of trying to work everything out, they ended up calling another lady who came down with a folder with all the safety checks.  They went through the folder for about 20 minutes trying to approve the seat, but apparently Virgin only approve AMERICAN car seats, that have to have a sticker on them saying 'this seat is approved for car and airline travel'.  Our AUSTRALIAN car seats don't say this.  They were at a loss.  I said our other option was a medical certificate so Lyla could sit on my lap, so they decided that was a good option and took us down to the airport doctor.  The wait to see the doctor was 1 hour, which by this stage we didn't have, so we nicely asked the 2 men ahead of us if we could squeeze in first, and they let us!  I go in with Lyla to talk to this doctor, I explained everything that had happened so far with the car seat drama, Lyla's condition and why we needed to see him.  I gave him a couple of medical notes I had in my bag explaining Lyla's condition, he then said "I am not approving Lyla to fly".  What the hell!?  He went on to say because Lyla has scoliosis that affects her lung function, therefore if she was to sit on my lap I would be restricting her lung function even more.  I told him Lyla travelled 6 months prior and sat on my lap, and her scoliosis has not changed since then.  He said it has increases significantly in the past 6 months, which is rubbish.  The only "safe" option for travel was to put Lyla in the car seat, the car seat that is not being approved.  We went back to check in and the lady was shocked and called her supervisor back.  Eventually they decided to call the flight engineers.  3 guys came down and said "Oh yeah, we can install this in to the plane somehow, we will go straight to the captain to get his approval first" (it's the captains choice at the end of the day) and then that was it, it was sorted, but by this stage we only had enough time to go straight to the gate. 

The ladies at Virgin were amazing, very helpful and very apologetic, but it turns out that they have never had anyone use a car seat in flight, except for Americans in international flights, so Lyla was literally the first disabled child to, which I find ridiculous.


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  2. It's quite shocking to know that Lyla was the first baby to be given a car seat in flight. Although, I know that as a parent, you would feel more comfortable if you held her instead. I admire your patience during that situation. It must've been rough being called in and out for several reasons. Hopefully, the next time you board a flight, they will be more accommodating, understanding and quick. :)

    Patricia Briggs @ Source Brokerage, Inc.