I used to travel a lot for swimming, at least three times a year and big trips with lots of planes, so I had a pretty good system to get from place A, to place B without any hassle.
Despite my good little system things don’t always go to plan, and on one trip, in particular, I ended up being detained in Chinese airport security and came very close to missing my flight connecting flight, land losing a $10,000 piece of equipment I needed for my wheelchair.
How might you ask this happened? Well, I didn’t have a little piece of paper.
You see the piece of equipment I had on me was called a Smart Drive. It’s a nifty little motorised wheel that hooks on to the back of my chair and comes in super handy for pushing long distances and up hills, for me, it was a must have when travelling.
It’s a fantastic piece of equipment, but it’s powered by a lithium-ion battery, and if anyone remembers the Samsung phones that were catching fire on planes a while back you’ll know that airlines don’t like lithium-ion batteries!
"I was stopped in the transit security because they were worried about the battery in my Smart Drive."
On my way through Shanghai for a swimming trip, I was stopped in the transit security because they were worried about the battery in my Smart Drive.
They asked to see the papers for it, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Not once in the four years, I had been travelling with it had anyone asked me for papers.
Even when I first got my Smart Drive the rep from the company told me if I was travelling all I had to do was let the airline know I had it with me, he assured me it was safe to fly with and the airlines would know what to do with it.
I had been successfully travelling ever since and while every airline has different policies I had never had any issues till now.
The language barrier didn’t help at all, I don’t speak any Mandarin and they didn’t really speak English. They just kept asking to see the ‘papers’ for my smart drive.
Things then got a bit hairy when they asked for my passport, I questioned what they needed it for but with no explanation, they just gestured towards it in my hand and demanded I hand it over, so I did.
"Occasionally they would walk over towards us and examine my wheelchair but no one was talking to me or making an attempt to explain what was happening"
I watched on as my passport was handed around six or so different people trying not to lose track of which staff member had it. Occasionally they would walk over towards us and examine my wheelchair but no one was talking to me or making an attempt to explain what was happening.
Less than 50 meters away the rest of our group were watching on just as confused about the situation as we were, anytime they tried to get close enough to talk to us through the security staff would shoo them away.
After an hour and a half of no passport, no smart drive and no information I was starting to get nervous we would miss our flight. It was due to start boarding soon and it felt like they were going to keep us here regardless.
A few minutes later, a security guard that spoke a bit of English came over and explained the pilot had agreed to let my Smart Drive on the plane and that's what the holdup was.
He handed me back my passport and gestured to another staff member to bring over my Smart Drive so we could go.
Upon arriving at our final destination one of the first things I did was look up flight papers for my Smart Drive, low and behold the company who make the Smart Drives have a flight certificate for the different models that you can present to airlines when they have questions about allowing it on board.
I now keep a copy on my phone and always offer to show it to the airline staff at check-in and before boarding.
So, that was my lesson learnt, and one I pass on to all the wheelchair users out there travelling with your Smart Drives.
Whatever you do, don’t forget your papers!