WestJet Ottawa-Halifax-London Gatwick
European Travel with PMA – WestJet
This was my third time traveling with WestJet with a mobility scooter and the second time, transatlantic. On the whole, they do a good job of making life easier for those with mobility issues. My key piece of advice to avoid damage to your scooter or power wheelchair is to be sure to wait with it until it is completely collapsed and ready for storage in the hold of the aircraft.
My scooter was damaged on 2 of the last 3 flights simply because the baggage handlers did not know how to correctly stow it. Armed with this foreknowledge, I was able to ensure that it arrived safe and sound. Mobility assistance at Ottawa, Halifax and London Gatwick was good and it was a great help having done it before and therefore knowing what to expect and how to avoid potential pitfalls. My key recommendation, if you are traveling alone, as I was, is to check everything possible and keep hand baggage to the minimum. Personally, I need both hands for crutches and/or cane, so my hand luggage must be carried by an assistant. Be aware that almost all airlines now require that any and all lithium batteries must be removed and carried on board.
On arrival in London, I needed to take a bus to Oxford. When traveling with the National Coach Service, you need to let them know ahead of time if you will need assistance boarding the bus. In the case of the Oxford Bus Lines, every bus has a lift/ramp to avoid climbing the very unfriendly stairs.
Accessibility in Oxford
Although great strides may have been made in recent years, many countries, England/UK included, have a long way to go. Many times, I found myself trapped on a sidewalk with steep curbs that my scooter was unable to navigate, necessitating tiresome detours. Also, many stores, restaurants and cinemas have threshold steps that are not accessibility-friendly.
To visit the Oxford Botanic Gardens, we had to make a detour of at least 1.5 kms because there is only a single accessible entrance. All the others have either steps or turnstiles that are not friendly to scooters or wheelchairs.
Accessibility in Eastbourne
My next stop was in Eastbourne, in East Sussex on the South coast. Because all of my family’s homes all have accessibility issues, mostly in terms of entrance steps or bathrooms on second floors, I was forced to find an accessible hotel. The only one available, due to an international tennis tournament, The Grande Aparthotel, was not nearly as accessible as claimed. The worst aspect was the steep slope down to reception that would be impossible for many scooters and power wheelchairs. Upon checking out, with my luggage on board, some kind stranger had to give me a push to get me up the hill! In addition, fire doors often made passage through corridors extremely difficult.
Eastbourne has some of the same problems as Oxford when it comes to getting around on a scooter or wheelchair, although since it is a somewhat more modern town, more streets, sidewalks and stores are still fairly accessible.
Next stop: Switzerland