Investigating the challenges of air travel in the United States: a qualitative study of the lived experiences of wheelchair users with spinal cord injury or disorder

Julie L. Pfeiffer, Walt Bower, Phillip Rumrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Study design: Qualitative exploratory study. Objectives: To understand the lived experiences of individuals with spinal cord injuries or disorders (SCI/D) who use wheelchairs during air travel in the United States (US), with a focus on the challenges and barriers to accessing this form of transportation. Setting: Wheelchair users with SCI/D living in the community in the US. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from six wheelchair users with SCI/D. Data were analyzed using a six-step thematic analysis. Results: Experiences of wheelchair users during air travel clustered into three themes; experiences interacting with the airport, experiences interacting with the airplane, and experiences across all stages of air travel. Barriers to airport accessibility were minimal. Physical barriers to airplane accessibility and damage to wheelchairs occurred when interacting with the airplane and airline staff. Undertrained staff and a shift in responsibility to the passenger with a disability impacted all stages of the experience. Conclusion: Wheelchair users with SCI/D encounter challenges that can result in unsafe and inaccessible air travel within the US. Adverse consequences of air travel often impact the individual’s independence and quality of life during and after the flight. Participants provided recommendations to improve the air travel experience for wheelchair users, including the ability to remain in one’s wheelchair while onboard the airplane.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25
JournalSpinal cord series and cases
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to International Spinal Cord Society 2024.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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