Richard and I were thrilled to enjoy a really unusual new adventure as a PR visit at iFLY at Xscape, Milton Keynes. As with any review I place on this blog, I will always be wholly truthful and give you any information I can so you can assess whether this would be the perfect place for you. We were kindly invited to partake in an indoor simulated skydiving experience in a giant vertical wind tunnel. The whole process was highly accessible and I felt very safe with our one-to-one instructor experience within the tunnel. There was also another trained expert outside of the tunnel, controlling the airflow from behind a control panel whilst taking video clips and photos for us to view later and even purchase to relive our experience!
There are four iFLY locations in the UK that offer this phenomenal skydiving experience but the one that Richard and I visited was located within the Xscape building at Milton Keynes. The other locations are the O2 in London, Basingstoke and Manchester. The Xscape, Milton Keynes, building was our closest location and we also knew that there were other accessible activities within the same building should we choose to enjoy those also such as a gaming arcade, adaptive skiing/ snowboarding, a cinema and also wheelchair friendly restaurants with disabled toilets. The building is basically a centre for entertainment and includes all of these activities under one roof – giving it the potential for a jam-packed day out if you so chose.
We “checked in” in person for our iFLY experience at midday so had plenty of time to park the car and enter the building. There are a multitude of accessible parking bays at Xscape so it is highly likely that there will be one available when you visit. It is worth noting though that pay and display charges do still apply for those with a Blue Badge. I will pop a photo of the tariffs into this piece (picture taken in November 2022) for reference.
There are dropped curbs to get onto the main pathways outside of the Xscape building so a wheelchair user would have no problem climbing these even if they are self-propelling. The doorways into the main building have no steps to climb and there is an automatically opening door on the lefthand side of the bank. This was working when we arrived and was really helpful. I love seeing this adaptive environment as it can be very hard to open a heavy door if you are a wheelchair user travelling alone. Luckily, I would have had my husband on hand to open this if necessary but it’s great to give disabled visitors this level of independence. The pathways through the shopping and entertainment centre were smooth and had ramps where there was any incline. There was a working lift to the second storey if you choose to visit the cinema after your flying experience.
The iFLY experience really starts online as you watch a training video with all of the party who will experience the indoor skydiving. The video is an embedded YouTube link so you can rewatch it later to assuage any anxiety and this also meant that there were subtitles as part of the auditory experience. This was really helpful as we managed to learn the hand signals that the instructor will utilise in the wind tunnel since the fan that lifts you is very noisy. It is worth being aware that the noise-level is very high even through the safety ear plugs you wear if you have conditions that might be triggered by sensory overload.
I think the online check-in and training was great as it allowed me to alleviate any anxiety and really take ownership of the experience, feeling calm and safe that I knew all of the signals to fly safely. It also allowed me to understand the body positioning which we held whilst in the chamber; I think the experience would definitely be easier for those who have the mobility to slightly bend or straighten their legs when required. This ability for slight movement would allow you to fly in the aerodynamic position they ask of you but do ring the all abilities team to discuss your needs if you have paralysis or alternative requirements. There were a few health questions when you checked in online including making sure that your shoulders are unlikely to dislocate against the pressure of the wind and also checking you can weight bear in order to stand and lean into the tunnel itself. I will integrate a picture later but the wheelchair could be parked up directly in front of the tunnel entrance door so a flyer would only have to be able to take around two steps over half a metre in order to stand and enter the wind tunnel itself.
In the physical building of Xscape (Milton Keynes), the iFLY experience area is on the ground floor so you have no need to travel in elevators to get to this. There was an accessible toilet within a two minute wheel from the check-in desk for iFLY and the iFLY staff knew exactly where this was, giving helpful directions. This wouldn’t fit significantly larger powered chairs or scooters but had enough space for my standard adult manual chair to enter and spin around in. There were plenty of grab rails and the sanitary bin was within an easy reach of a seated position on the toilet. I loved that there was a mirror above the lowered sink as it allowed me to plait my hair prior to entering the iFLY area so it was out of the way and not flying all around my face and helmet. You’d be surprised how many accessible toilets neglect to place a mirror in that space! There was an emergency alert pull-cord too which didn’t quite reach the ground but would be within an arms reach of laying on the floor in a medical fall. I would recommend that Xscape, who maintain this public toilet, add a small plastic handle onto the end of this, preferably in a highly visible colour such as red.
Wheeling back into the iFLY area, there was a lowered check-in desk so I could easily see the lady who was finding us on her system. You could complete your training online at your own comfort but there were also a set of two screens available at the top of the ramp to fill out the medical waiver if you had not done that in advance. Once checked in, there were plentiful benches to sit on if required but I stayed in my chair. It might be worth asking, if you have mobility needs, to be the first person to receive their suit out of the small group who is flying at the same time as you. There were seven people who alternated their time in the flight tunnel when we visited and asking for your suit first would allow you extra time to get the one-piece fitted boiler suit over your clothes and lace up trainers (required to fly). I definitely took a little longer to be helped by my husband into my suit but it was fine as other flyers were just being helped into helmets that fitted their head size at this point anyway. I never felt pressurised to rush into this suit as we were getting into the flight zone fairly early anyway so there was plenty of time. I know that lace-up trainers are a concern for those with dexterity problems or movement conditions such as cerebral palsy so there were plimsols (think back to your school PE days) available at the counter in a multitude of sizes that you could be helped into by whoever you are flying with if you don’t actually own lace-up shoes.
Once zipped into my boiler suit style flying attire, Richard and I were fitted with reinforced plastic helmets and given a safety check with the instructor we would be flying with. Joe Rouse, our instructor, was really kind and detail-orientated so I felt very safe with him in the flight chamber. He was also lovely since he subtly asked me about my mobility away from other flyers to check that I could stand and weigh-bear to enter the chamber and whether I have muscular control over my legs in order to straighten/ bend them to be more aerodynamic within the flight chamber. I appreciated his attentiveness here as these factors would have an impact on my flight experience so it was all information that he needed to confirm.
We left our belongings in the locker bank and there were plenty of lockers at different heights if you would like one at a wheelchair-reachable level. The keys were kept behind Reception safely so there were no loose items at all within the chamber to fly into the industrial fans or to hurt yourself with when in flight.
There were two sets of double glass doors to go through in order to get into the flight zone. Both of these were wide enough for my standard adult manual wheelchair to pass through and there was an easily traversable lip over each set of doors which I had no problem self-propelling through. Once inside the flight building, there is a wheelchair accessible elevator which has a small metal ramp upon entry and is level-access when exiting. The lift is small but my husband fitted in easily with me in my manual chair. There was raised braille alongside the base of each of the buttons. You have to press and hold the buttons to ascend/ descend so it would be great if you had someone with you who had the dexterity to do that alongside you if that’s a concern.
The flight chamber itself was directly in front of the lift area and the dense carpet throughout here was easy to propel over. There were seating areas outside of the “flight zone” where non-participating family members could sit and watch. There would be space here to pull up a wheelchair beside one of the benches if you weren’t actually deciding to fly yourself.
The doorway into the safety zone beside the flight chamber didn’t open fully as it got slightly stuck on the carpet with it having a safety seal at the base to keep the area more air-tight. However, we still easily managed to get my wheelchair through this doorway’s width and there was an open space to “park up”, directly opposite the doorway from which you would enter the flight zone. This meant that I only had to stand, walk around two steps over half a metre and then enter the doorway. I had my husband to lean on and Joe, our instructor, was really patient so I never felt rushed at this point of transferring. I was able to place my hand on Joe’s shoulder so I effectively had two “crutches” named Richard and Joe which I used to enter the doorway haha! We personally chose to have a longer time for myself in the flight chamber so I had two flights of a two minute length and Richard, alongside many of the other participants, had two one minute flights. Although this doesn’t sound an intensive amount of time, it was plentiful to learn the basic positioning and to fly independently (without the instructor holding onto your body) once you master that.
You could also purchase flight time extensions at Reception and go for the “high fly” experience which was £10 extra unless you had pre-booked this. This is where Joe, our instructor, flew us significantly higher in the chamber, swooping you up and down and spinning you around whilst you remain flat on your belly in the flight position. This was truly exhilarating as Joe’s dynamic body positioning and interaction with the clear plexiglass flight chamber walls meant that the chamber spun us gracefully whilst rising up and down a significant amount. It truly gave the experience of a weightless flight and was such an adrenaline rush! I never felt unsafe or panicked at any point, especially with Joe’s calm reassurance, but you can give a thumbs down signal during your flight at any moment if you find yourself not enjoying this experience. The instructor was there at a one-to-one basis and there was another flight expert behind a glass panel, controlling the wind flow and operating the machine that was taking photos/ videos which were available for later purchase.
Exiting the chamber was done through Joe guiding my body towards the door, me grabbing onto the rims of the doorframe and then “swinging” my legs forward against the airflow to go from laying flat to an upright position. Richard and Joe then supported my weight on their shoulders again as my “crutches” (bless them!) as I made those last two steps to be seated in my chair again.
I will integrate some photos within this text but it is worth noting that your instructor will respectfully use their hands on your body to guide you to the centre of the chamber and to hold on to you so you don’t fly upwards. This is a very normal process and I only mention it in order to say that it is very important to mention to your instructor if there are any areas that they should avoid touching if it would cause you pain or interact with a medical device. My PEGJ is fine to be touched and is perfectly safe during this flight process (obviously without a feed actually running of course, so it was just the port itself) but you do have to assess these things when signing the medical waiver.
We then had a small break where I watched the other participants fly, including one flyer who was more advanced and practiced laying on his back in the chamber, allowing his body to spin slowly as he “flew”. He was training for a skydiving certificate and said that this process through iFLY was significantly more cost-effective for a longer amount of flight time than actually going up in a plane for training. I presume, although I have never been skydiving, as well that this iFLY experience has fewer dangers since you are never far off of the ground and don’t have other contingencies to consider such as weather or varying air temperatures during your training.
We both flew again separately after the other flyers had have their turn and I could marvel at everyone’s aerodynamic positioning and cheesy grins as they enjoyed the experience! The photos and video are available to view and purchase after you are back in your normal clothing. Your an pre-book buying a photo/ video or there are packages available to add onto your flight in-person after you have flown. The one we utilised was the Family Media Package where you can download all of the photos and video for up to five flyers for £30; this would be perfect if this was a family outing or work team-building activity. Some of the flight packages already include a photo or video when pre-bought together and there are also VR packages which give you the visual simulation of a skydiving flight over stunning scenery. You could even upgrade your suit to become a superhero – this would be perfect if a Stag/ Hen Party was participating!
There is a function room which can be decorated with balloons etc and rented if this a birthday party or special occasion and you could easily get the wheelchair through this door and there was plentiful space around the table and chairs to traverse this area on wheels.
Another thing I did love is that you could buy gift vouchers to gift friends/ family the experience of flight. “Return flyers” who are revisiting their iFLY experience can get 10 flights for a heavily reduced price of £150. There are also fantastic charity fundraising initiatives where iFLY will even support your chosen charity with a donation of their own! These are really cool experiences such as sky-diving “from space” with a simulation playing over VR glasses. There is even a one-person skydive for the length that a marathon is usually run. Really fun and unusual ways to raise money for charity whilst also experiencing this exhilarating activity together!
iFLY was so wonderful, right from the start at ensuring I felt included and safe when doing the indoor sky-diving as a disabled person. The medical questionnaire felt thorough and the whole exterior building of Xscape Milton Keynes, alongside the iFLY centre itself within this main building, were wheelchair friendly. I felt very comfortable with the instructor who accompanied me into the wind tunnel, Joe Brough. He was attentive and gave off a fantastically calming presence throughout. I found that I only had to weight-bear and walk half a metre before I arrived at the doors of the wind tunnel and, apart from when putting my flight suit over my clothes, the rest of the experience could be undertaken from my wheelchair very easily.
I love that the building and even the online presence and website of iFLY really focus on being as inclusive as possible. There is a separate section online which talks about flying for all abilities and the phone number on that page might be really helpful if you need to talk to a staff member about your abilities prior to booking since disability varies so widely.
I thought the whole experience was truly freeing and exhilarating; I could move so much more when I was in “flight” compared to from my wheelchair when conventionally moving on the ground. I felt so proud of myself and my body that I could experience this moment just the same as all of the other abled flyers in my group. Although I don’t expect to be doing the high swirls and spins of the professional instructors any time soon, Richard and I would love to rejoin iFLY at another point and experience the weightless thrill of indoor sky-diving!
If you have any questions about the accessibility of the Xscape, Milton Keynes, building and the iFLY experience then do pop an email across to me on email@example.com or drop me a message on www.Instagram.com/disabledtravelwithgeorgina. Of course, there is plenty more information also on the iFLY website and specifically on their inclusive all abilities section. We will certainly be back to fly again very soon!