Well, where do I start on this amazing city?  My husband and I went to Las Vegas for one main purpose, to see Billy Idol in concert.  I couldn’t see him here in the UK last year as hubby broke his leg and as he is my carer/driver, I was unable to go.  So when I heard he was doing a residency in LV, I just had to go.

Las Vegas:  My First Time Flying As A Full-Time Wheelchair User - The famous Las Vegas welcome sign

We booked our trip for October 2019 directly with British Airways and dealt with a very nice man who answered all my question and sorted everything out for us from the hotel, flights/seats and disability assistance.  I was extra nervous as I hadn’t flown in over 20 years and this was my first time flying as a full-time wheelchair user, so had many worries due to all the horror stories I had been reading about disabled people being left on the plane, wheelchairs broke or going missing.  I really wasn’t doing myself any favours.

Anyhow, we booked fairly early on in the year so we had roughly 10 months to wait.  Everything seemed to run very smoothly and we were updated regularly from BA via email regarding our booking.  We were flying from Gatwick to McCarran airport.

On the morning of our long weekend in Vegas, we arrived at Gatwick, we parked in the long stay car park we had booked at a reasonable price, then got the bus to the South Terminal, which was wheelchair accessible.  We did try to check-in on the BA app the night before but this wasn’t working too well, (either that or I was doing it wrong).  So we went to check-in.  This went smoothly and we told the lady we had assistance booked and she directed us where to go.  We decided to go grab a bite to eat before going to assistance as we had turned up extremely early thinking traffic might be bad.  We had to be there 3 hours before departure time (long haul flight)…..We turned up 4 hours before lol.

At the assistance desk we were given a beeper and was told when it goes off, come back to the desk and we would be taken to board the plane.  So the only sensible thing left to do now was go shopping   We had approx 2 hours or so to go before departure.  When our beeper went off, we headed back to assistance where we were taken to the plane.  Jeff (hubby) required assistance also as he is unable to walk very far, so he jumped in one of their electric buggies where I followed behind, well I say behind, I was left for dust really.  Thank god I knew what gate I was aiming for, which I might add was miles away!!  At the plane door, I transferred into an aisle chair, (by god this is a tiny piece of equipment, my backside only just fitted on the seat!!)  I was extremely embarrassed to see that most of the passengers had already boarded the plane, meaning I had to pass them all as I was pulled along with my hips hopping of each seat as I passed.  Our seats were at the very back of the plane as this was the only place that had 2 seats instead of 3 and I felt a row of 2 seats would be better for transferring in/out of the aisle chair if/when I needed the loo and the fact the toilets were pretty much behind these seats.  No passengers to pass mid-flight!

We eventually take off after a delay of over an hour (A flight from Scotland was delayed that had passengers that were booked on our flight).  Well, the flight was probably the coldest I have been in a very long time.  The aircon must have been on full blast!  I wrapped up in a blanket and still couldn’t get warm.

TIP 1 – Take something warm to wear on the flight or you WILL freeze!!

The entertainment system on this plane was pretty naff to say the least.  The screen was very small (compared to the one coming home), the section where you can track your flight journey was not working and when trying to watch a film, you could see the grid lines embedded in the screen.  Even the Wi-fi was broken, so I tried to get some sleep as I knew when we landed, we would have been up nearly 24 hours due to time difference but this was impossible due to being so damn cold.

Las Vegas:  My First Time Flying As A Full-Time Wheelchair User - Airplane Toilet
Las Vegas:  My First Time Flying As A Full-Time Wheelchair User -  Plane toilet with side entrance

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I had spent the day watching my liquid intake as I didn’t know how I was going to cope with the toilet onboard.  Jeff had to go long before I did and he came back saying he didn’t think I was going to cope….Great, just what I wanted to hear!!  He explained the door to the toilet faced the toilet itself, Left Image – this meant I would not be able to transfer onto the toilet from the aisle chair.  I sat pondering my options and trying to work out how I was going to get onto the toilet in such a small space.  Jeff then disappeared and came back and told me there was another toilet on the other side of the plane (Jeff used the one directly behind us) and this looked more promising as the door was at the side of the toilet, Right image.  Indeed this was the answer I needed, it even had a handrail for me to hold onto whilst I transferred.  Please note:  These are not the toilets aboard our plane, just a representation to show you the difference.

Tip 2 – Do check to see if there are other toilets laid out differently as this might make the difference in whether or not you can actually go.

I packed my cushion with my wheelchair in the hold luggage.  What a mistake this was.  I was in excruciating pain the whole way as the plane seats are quite hard and my coccyx got very sore.  I didn’t make the same mistake coming home!

Tip 3 – Make sure if you have a cushion on your chair, you take it on board with you to use.

View from airplane of mountains covered with snow

If you can, (I know airlines normally prefer us disabled to have an aisle seat) get a window seat, the views over Iceland/Greenland are out of this world!!

Arriving at McCarran airport, I had the dreaded aisle chair fiasco again, thankfully I was last off so no passengers gawping at me.  My wheelchair was at the plane door waiting for me, yippee, what a relief!  Once transferred, we were taken to customs, once through there we were on our own.  We went outside to look for a taxi to take us to our hotel the Excalibur.  I was so cold from the plane, I was delighted to see the sun shining brightly I just had to sit in it for 5 minutes to warm my bones up.  The weather at this time of year is wonderful and hot!  (Well Caz, you are in the middle of the Nevada desert).

We were advised to go to one of the taxi booth’s outside. We waited in line at one of them for what felt like half an hour, so we decided to move along to another booth. The prices advertised (correct at Oct 2019)  ranged from $9.50 to $11 and on one of the booths, there was a $50 price in brackets advertised as airport tax? I have no idea as to what this meant, was this another $50 on top of the price of the trip itself? Feeling a little nervous, we went around the corner only to find we could get a bus (the SDX bus) that went from the airport to quite a few of the hotels along the strip. So we decided to jump on one of these to take us to our hotel.  This only cost us $2 each way.

I have to explain, we spent the whole weekend jumping on and off buses up and down the strip as all buses and I mean all, were wheelchair accessible. I can’t speak for all of America but in Vegas at least, all bus drivers will get out of their cab and put the ramp down for you, you then board the bus and if there are any passengers sitting in the fold-up priority seats and this space is needed by a wheelchair user, the passengers are told to move, the seats are then folded up, you then park your chair in that space where the driver then clamps your chair to the bus. In all honesty, I was amazed at how efficient the bus service actually was.  I’m terrified of using public transport (buses) here in London.  In Vegas, I would use them all by myself anytime!!

Las Vegas:  My First Time Flying As A Full-Time Wheelchair User -Gold & blue double decker bus that runs up & down the Vegas strip

When you’re travelling up and down the strip, there is another bus route called the Deuce, this is a gold & blue double-decker bus that runs very frequently up and down the strip daily. The SDX bus I previously mentioned goes up and down the strip but does deviate at certain points along the strip, therefore you may have to get off the SDX bus and jump on the deuce bus or vice versa, depending on where you start your journey and where you wish to go.

Full info can be found here:  https://www.visitlasvegas.com/experience/post/getting-around-vegas/  

This tells you what you need to know about the buses that go up & down the strip.  It is also much cheaper than getting taxi’s everywhere as they use meter’s to charge for your journey, so if you’re stuck in traffic, which is pretty much every journey, then your fare is going to be expensive.

Tip 4 – If you can, use the Deuce or SDX buses when travelling up and down the strip.  Daily bus passes are fairly cheap.

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Las Vegas:  My First Time Flying As A Full-Time Wheelchair User -Excalibur hotel from a distance showing several towers of the medieval theme

We arrive at our hotel the Excalibur, this is a themed hotel (as all of the hotels along the strip are).  The Excalibur has a medieval theme with a castle look to it.  Inside you are greeted with stone walls and knights scattered around upon ledges on the walls. 

Knights armour statue in the Excalibur hotel

You can go into any of the hotels along the strip and use their amenities, shops, casino and restaurants but, I will say this about all hotels that we went in to look around.  They are all freezing…..Aircon on full blast all the time.  I can only assume this is because so many people have complained about the hotels/casinos being very smokey as there is not, a no smoking ban in Vegas. 

I have to say, although freezing, it certainly keeps the smoke at bay.  There was no smell of smoke at all!!  One or two of the hotels did smell musty and damp but not of smoke.

Being a wheelchair user, I booked an accessible room.  It was basic but had all the amenities you could want, well most, we had no tea/coffee facilities in our room.  I believe all hotels in America offer room only type of rooms.

Our accessible room came with the following:

  • Big double bed – I woke up in the middle of the night and thought Jeff had got up to go to the toilet, I didn’t realise he was on the other side of the bed lol
  • Wet room bathroom with real in shower-including a shower chair
  • Hairdryer
  • Iron/ironing board
  • Two armchairs
  • Table with mirror above
  • Flat-screen TV-opposite the bed
  • Wardrobe
  • Plenty of drawer/cupboard space
  • safe inside cupboard

There were only two drawbacks to our room,

  1. The sink in the bathroom was far from an appropriate height for a wheelchair user – It was far too high
  2. There was no tea/coffee making facility in the room

Although there were no tea or coffee facilities in the room, on the lobby floor just outside the lifts there was a kiosk selling tea/coffee/hot chocolate etc and pastries if you wanted them.

We landed in Vegas at 3:15 PM and we got to our hotel approximately 6:30 PM and due to being up over 24 hours at this point, we decided to grab a bite to eat and then just crash in bed. There was a food court on level 1, this had approximately seven or eight different places to eat.

Tip 5: A lot of the food in Vegas, as I am sure you can imagine, is very greasy. There are many places where you can get food that is not greasy.  So, it is worth shopping around.

We awoke Saturday morning at 2:00 am due to the time difference and to my horror, found my electric wheelchair had not been charging. Meaning, it was plugged in correctly to both my wheelchair and electrical outlet but still no charge! Jeff checked my wheelchair, charger and plugs and found nothing wrong with any of the connections. It turns out, (something we had not even thought about), was the voltage used in the USA. Here, in the UK, we use 240v but in the USA they use 110v, therefore, meaning their voltage was not powerful enough to charge my chair.

To cut a very long story short, we spent the best part of Saturday trying to fix my charging issue.  From having to go to a local electrical store to purchase a step-up/down transformer, finding out the machine we bought was faulty and the last one in stock.  (Ever feel the forces are just working against you?).   (I have since spoken to a friend who also had the same issue in a country she had visited and confirmed she used one of these step-up/down transformers and it charged her chair with no problem).

We had visited reception a couple of times, hoping they might have been able to help us as surely I would not have been the first electric wheelchair user to have suffered this problem! Unfortunately, they didn’t really know what we were going on about. Surprised and shocked we were directed to the bellboy desk and told to speak with the manager Andy. Andy Matteucci (Bell Captain) was a lifesaver as he spent a couple of hours trying to solve my problem including getting one of his engineers to confirm the machine we had bought was actually faulty. After exhausting all possibilities Andy suggested using one of his scooter chargers to see if that would charge my chair. (These are scooters the hotel hire out to anyone needing them).  I was praying this would be a solution, as my chair was now in the red and the sole purpose of our visit (Billy Idol concert) was in a view hours time!

Thankfully, my prayers seemed to be answered as this seemed to fix my problem, the charger was charging my chair. There was only one problem with this solution, I assume because of the electrical outlet voltage, the charger wasn’t powerful enough to charge my chair properly, this meant I had to carry the charger around with me to keep charging my chair at regular intervals. Therefore, we had to hire the scooter that came with the charger.

Tip 6: Please speak to your wheelchair service (if you have an NHS chair) or your wheelchair manufacturer to ask what their advice would be on charging your chair in the USA/abroad.  I spoke with Invacare (my wheelchair manufacturer) their advice was to purchase a 110v charger for my wheelchair at the lovely price of £300. Yeah right, gonna spend that kind of money on a piece of equipment that I may only use once……. not bloody likely!  (I may look deeper into one of those step-up/down transformers).

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Las Vegas:  My First Time Flying As A Full-Time Wheelchair User -Billy Idol sitting on my footrest between my legs while I'm sitting in my wheelchair

As I said before, the sole purpose of our visit to Las Vegas was to see Billy Idol in concert. As you can see from the image above, this was a dream come true! Billy Idol was doing a residency in the Palms Casino resort hotel. From what we saw of the hotel it looked rather plush but the view I had from the wheelchair space at the very back of their theatre, was crap, to say the least. I was in a space that had what I would describe as a cinema seat either side of me (presumably, carer/PA seats).

The theatre/auditorium was tiered and as I was sat directly behind the last row of seats, the minute people got up to dance, which was as soon as the music started, I may as well have stuck on an eye mask as I would have had a better view! The irony of this, was, to the right of me there was a balcony section for all the other wheelchair users who had no obstruction to their view whatsoever as it was a balcony! So, I have a word with the usher asking if I could sit off to the left by the pillar where the flight of steps lead down into the auditorium. He said no! I went on to explain how my view was non-existent and I would then have to leave as it would not be worth staying. He told me to hang on a moment, he went away, came back and told me if I sat against the wall I could sit by the pillar. Not the best of solutions but better than what I had previously.

Tip 7:  When booking concert tickets or show tickets especially when going abroad to see these shows, try your best to research or contact the venue itself to find out exactly where you are seated and if your view will be obstructed in any way. If like me you have to book a wheelchair space at the venue, you are limited to where you can be seated so definitely worth finding this information out before booking!

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Jeff in between 2 showirls with blue feather headdresses

So, after sadly having our first day taken from us due to my wheelchair issues, we had an awful lot to cram into one day. Wow, we were gonna be busy!  We were told you could not visit Vegas and not go to Fremont Street as this was an experience not to be missed. So we jumped up on a bus (Deuce) and took this to Fremont Street. Here, is where the Vegas strip originally started. It is basically one long street filled with shops, casinos and restaurants, with a roof cover that lights up. At one end of the street, you can jump on a zip wire and travel the length of the street.  Did you know, the Golden Nugget casino that is here, is where the film Sister Act was filmed?  Neither did I!

On the ground, you may very well see Elvis and some showgirls, be careful though, we had passed a couple of showgirls two or three times and each time they asked for us to have a picture taken with them which we refused each time. Towards the end of the day, Jeff decided to bite the bullet and have his picture taken with them. It is customary to tip these picture opportunity people for a better phrase. So before having his picture taken Jeff did ask “how much”? The answer was “whatever you felt like giving”. After the picture was taken both myself and Jeff handed the girls $10 each. One of the girls took this money and the other one asked: “have you anything nice for me”? Jeff explained that the $20 was for both of them, to which they responded by informing us that they normally get $20 each! Sorry, $40 dollars for a photo that you take with your own camera?  (I’m in the wrong business).

Freemont Street in Vegas with overhead cover all lit up with flame images

Be warned though, there are many sights you may wish to forget. For example, we saw what can only be described as an elderly lady wearing a G string, nipple doilies, masquerade lace mask and holding a whip in one hand where she found it very amusing to slap men’s backsides with this as they passed by.

Tip 8: Make sure, you have plenty of spending money if you intend to have your picture taken regularly with these photo opportunity people because in my opinion you will be fleeced!!

After our eventful day, my wheelchair was drained, so I had to use the scooter Jeff had hired that evening.  We took a ride up and down the strip seeing it all lit up and grabbing a few photos.  The strip at night is definitely worth seeing!!

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Monday – Time to go home 🙁   We were very sad as we felt we just didn’t have the time we needed to see and do everything we wanted.  (Oh well, just means we will have to go back again)   

Checking out of the hotel was very easy, there were machines by reception that you could use rather than queue up, all you had to do really was input your name and email address and confirm you were checking out.

So, back to the airport, we go!  We jumped on another bus (SDX) to take us back to the airport.  We got a little confused as to which side of the road we needed to be on as of course, the traffic is going the opposite direction to here in the UK.  We asked someone and was directed to a bus stop, only to find we were on the wrong side of the road and on the wrong road lol.  We should have been literally on the side, just around the corner.

Checking in was a little slow as the man dealing with us didn’t have a clue how to check in a wheelchair user!  Back and forth he went, asking me the same questions repeatedly.  One thing I didn’t understand, when booking, I had to input all the necessary info regarding my wheelchair, weight, dimensions, battery type etc yet, here I was giving all this info all over again at all the airports I passed through.

Tip 9:  Have a handy info sheet with all this info with you whenever going through the airport.  You will be asked repeatedly for it!!

We went to the assistance desk where we told this time we had priority boarding, something not told to us flying out!  We were told to go to the boarding desk approx an hour before take-off.  The time came for pre-boarding, we were already at the seating area by the desk waiting.  I was taken to the plane door where I had to transfer into an aisle seat, then I was told to wait.  The man dealing with me had to go and help another passenger?  So I was left in this aisle chair sat by the plane door, waiting, waiting and waiting.  Passengers had now started to board the plane, all passing me by a looking!  Even the cabin crew started to look worried!  Eventually, the man returned, I was now finally boarding the plane and yes, you guessed it, the aisle chair fiasco once again!!  Although that was bad enough, the biggest issue we had with our return flight was the disability assistance at Gatwick……Basically it didn’t arrive!! When we arrived back at Gatwick, I was told by a member of the cabin crew, that I wasn’t down as a “carry on”.  I explained that BA themselves booked this and nearer our flight date, confirmed all was well.  After investigation, it turned out that another lady (who had NO assistance booked) got my assistance??  This now meant my electric wheelchair had NOT been brought to the plane door!  How does this kind of mistake happen??   Getting off the plane at Gatwick, the man taking me down the aisles of the plane had no idea what he was doing.  He kept bashing my hips into the seats and at one point I had to reach out and physically stop him as he nearly crashed my legs into a doorway!!  Again, causing me lots of pain!! Because of this major cock-up, I was made to transfer from the plane seat onto the aisle chair then into another chair onboard the jetty bus that was at the plane door, I then had to be taken to luggage claim where I was again made to transfer into another wheelchair so I could be taken off the bus into the terminal entrance.  Eventually, my electric wheelchair was found and yet again, transfer into it.  This caused me a great deal of physical pain in my coccyx, arms and back.  I am still in pain as I write this!  Then, once I was in my own chair, we were left alone!  All assistance was just gone.  We had no idea where or what to do next!  My husband who also had assistance booked was now left to walk everywhere and struggle to search for and lift our luggage!!  His assistance was non-existent!!  So he also is in great pain!! Unfortunately, this kind of mistake is out of our control, all we can do is book assistance and get confirmation nearer the time.  Beyond this, our assistance is literally in the hands of the gods!!  I count myself lucky though, it could have been a lot worse in the respect my wheelchair could have been damaged, thankful for small mercies!!!

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Conclusion

We had a fantastic time and will go again.  Yes, we had our ups and downs but well worth it.  We didn’t really have the time to spend in the casinos due to the issues we had with my chair.  Next time I may have a flutter 

 It is a noisy place with machines pinging and beeping in the casinos, the general hustle and bustle of the strip and all the traffic.  The lights are amazing but I can see how they could be very overwhelming for some. The weather is great if you love the sun, we found it not too hot and not too cold (unless in a hotel). 

My Tips

TIP 1 – Take something warm to wear on the flight or you WILL freeze!!

Tip 2 – Do check to see if there are other toilets laid out differently as this might make the difference in whether or not you can actually go.

Tip 3 – Make sure if you have a cushion on your chair, you take it on board with you to use.

Tip 4 – If you can, use the Deuce or SDX buses when travelling up and down the strip.  Daily bus passes are fairly cheap.

Tip 5: A lot of the food in Vegas, as I am sure you can imagine, is very greasy. There are many places where you can get food that is not greasy.  So, it is worth shopping around.

Tip 6: Please speak to your wheelchair service (if you have an NHS chair) or your wheelchair manufacturer to ask what their advice would be on charging your chair in the USA/abroad.  I spoke with Invacare (my wheelchair manufacturer) their advice was to purchase a 110v charger for my wheelchair at the lovely price of £300. Yeah right, gonna spend that kind of money on a piece of equipment that I may only use once……. not bloody likely!  (I may look deeper into one of those step up/down transformers).

Tip 7:  When booking concert tickets or show tickets especially when going abroad to see these shows, try your best to research or contact the venue itself to find out exactly where you are seated and if your view will be obstructed in any way. If like me you have to book a wheelchair space at the venue, you are limited to where you can be seated so definitely worth finding this information out before booking!

Tip 8:  Make sure, you have plenty of spending money if you intend to have your picture taken regularly with these photo opportunity people because in my opinion you will be fleeced!!

If you decide to go, happy holidays, I’m sure you’ll have a fabulous time as we did!

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