When you arrive in New Zealand, the airports provide ground staff to assist with boarding and disembarking. Air bridges at the major terminals (both domestic and international) provide level access but at smaller airports, forklifts are used to assist wheelchair users. Aisle seats with lift-up armrests on some flights and aisle transport chairs (Newton) are available on request. On domestic flights, wheelchair users may stay in their own chair to the cabin entry before transferring to an aisle chair.
1. Make sure you take plenty of any medication you may need. Never try to buy it overseas. It will be enormously expensive, or may not be available. Get a covering letter from your doctor and make sure the airline is aware. Needles are OK in the hold, but if you need to take them as cabin luggage, you’ll need to make special arrangements.
2. If you suffer from incontinence then wear a leg bag as it takes away a lot of the pressure of trying to find a toilet in time.
3. You also need to choose a good airline and inform them of your special needs. Cut-price airlines can leave you with a few wobbly luggage hoists and tarmac steps later… it ain’t worth it! Contact the airline well ahead to arrange seating. We found the best place was up the very back, right near the toilets.
4. Almost all airlines will take your wheelchair for free (that includes electric ones). You’ll need to arrive at check-in a bit earlier to book it and to get a wheelchair for use at the airport. Ask for a staff member to help you through to the plane. This has the added advantage of giving you quick checking through customs. You’ll be put in an “aisle chair,” which is a wheelchair narrow enough to get you down to your seat on the plane and you’ll get taken to your seat first. Unfortunately, this also means that you’ll be last to get off, but don’t worry; with the VIP service through customs, you’ll be first at the luggage carousel! And ask for staff help all the way through as it will make things much easier and quicker.
5. When traveling if you are disabled, it’s very important to book ahead. Unfortunately, your days of just dropping into a town and grabbing somewhere to stay on the spur of the moment are over. We started booking accommodation almost a year ago. Don’t rely on those ‘wheelchair-friendly symbols because sometimes they’ve been put there for no apparent reason. In general, I found it’s better to exaggerate rather than downplay your level of disability. That way you’re less likely to end up somewhere unsuitable.
6. You’ll want travel insurance; if only to cover any medical emergencies. You may have to pay a little more to cover your “pre-existing condition,” but it’s not at all hard to get. Most insurance companies will be happy to cover everything apart from your illness!
7. Don’t forget your disabled parking pass, if you’ve got one. They can be hard to organize an NZ pass before you leave, through CCS. If you use your own sticker you should have no problems. In fact, in New Zealand, you’re very unlikely to encounter parking problems even in the peak tourist season.
10. And don’t be afraid to say you could do with help. Most places are set up to cater to disabled people and are only too happy to help if given notice. You might be pleasantly surprised and even find yourself at the front of the queue for once!