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When you listen to the stories that people tell over a glass of beer it makes you want to go and see the world.
They usually have a saying like the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
But when you have a disability or live your whole life in a wheelchair, the adventure already starts when you browse the web for information on handicapped air travel.
For me it was terrifying to fly on an airplane with my wheelchair, because there are so many new rules and requirements that you need to know.
Now with a couple of flights under my belt, I’m confident enough to share with you the key points that anyone needs to know.
The first thing we need to do is to find a place to stay.
Booking your flight and hotel
I like to make sure that the hotel I’m staying at is well equipped for people in a wheelchair or at least has a roll-in shower and toilet.
For this I use a website called Tripiflights, on this website I can use filters to find a hotel that fits my needs.
You can also use tripadvisor or expedia.
Some of these websites offer bundled trips, that include the hotel and airline ticket, just don’t forget to book wheelchair assistance when you use a wheelchair.
When all of this sounds too complicated, then your best option is to use a travel bureau or agent in your town, here you can layout everything you need including wheelchair assistance.
Booking with a travel agency is a bit more expensive but they will make sure that everything is in place before you go on your trip.
Just make sure to book a ticket for an aisle seat in the front of the plane, this makes it easier to transfer in and out of the seat much easier.
One thing I recommend anyone that travels by air and uses a wheelchair to book, and that is the wheelchair assistance at airports.
This is a specialised service that airports offer for free to people in wheelchairs or those who have some kind of disability.
The wheelchair assistance will help you with things like:
- Clearing customs
- Gate check-in
- Getting your wheelchair onboard
- Making sure your wheelchair is at the gate when you deplane
It’s a great service that makes the whole trip a lot easier and less stressful, especially if you travel by yourself or it’s your first time on an airplane with a wheelchair or a disability.
When you book a domestic US flight then non-spillable batteries are allowed on the airplane.
Most electric wheelchairs and scooters use sealed lead acid (AGM and Gel) and Lithium-Ion batteries. Both of these types of batteries are allowed onboard but you need to declare this with the arline before booking.
Because there are so many services that must be done at the same day and location, it’s best to check everything a couple of days before your departure.
Here are the most important ones that you need to check first:
- Is wheelchair assistance reserved for you departure date?
- Does the hotel have you in their system for the day you supposed to arrive?
- Book a direct flight if possible
- Book an aisle seat towards the front of the plane
- Pack transfer strap’s to make the seat transfer easier
- Take pictures of your wheelchair incase of damage
- Attach instructions to your wheelchair on how to operate the chair
- Pack liquid last and in 100ml completely clear plastic bottles plus store them in a resealable clear bag (max 10 items,)
- Make sure to have a medical certificate for your medicine’s
- Note the make and model number of the batteries when you call the airport (only for electric wheelchair users)
- TSA Approved Cable Luggage Locks
- Use zip ties with the locks for better security, also carry extra in the outer compartment of your suitcase
Make sure to arrive at the airport at least 3 hour before your departure time, this will give you and the wheelchair assistance plenty of time to get you onboard.
Arriving at the airport
Have you used the tips I layout above? then everything should be in place when you arrive at the airport and at your destination.
Find your departure hall
The first thing we need to do is find our departure hall, you can find these by looking online for your airport or follow the signs that are posted everywhere in the airport.
Can’t find the departure hall? Just ask ground personal or at the many information stands.
When you use wheelchair assistance, then you won’t have to worry about this because they will know where to go and make sure you get there on time.
Now that we have found our departure hall, it’s time to check in.
This can take some time especially during the holidays, so make sure you have your passport and your check in slip on hand.
After your check in you will receive your boarding pass, on this pass is printed the departure gate and time.
You will also receive a check in slip on your suitcase (do not remove this), if you lose your luggage and no slip is on the suitcase, airport security will handle this as a suspicious suitcase.
Going through security
Most modern airports use an automated security scan where you have to stand upright with your arms in the air while the scan rotates around you.
But wheelchair users are not able to stand, so one or two security officers will then perform a manual pad down on you instead of using the scanner.
It is possible that TSA and other security agency require you to transfer yourself to a transport chair that is property of the airport, so your wheelchair can be checked directly.
If you don’t have wheelchair assistance and you are required to transfer to a transport chair by security, they will then make sure you get a purser to help you get to the gate.
Don’t forget to take your wheelchair cushions, your personal belongings, and bags with you when you transfer to the transport chair.
Note: Don’t tip a TSA or any other security member, because you could get a $50,000 fine or a 5 year jail sentence for bribery.
Now that we have cleared security, it’s time to get onboard the airplane.
This will require you to transfer yourself to the aisle chair, this is a specially designed chair that fits in the small aisle inside the plane without getting stuck.
Wheelchair assistance will help you by lifting you from your wheelchair or airport transport chair into the aisle chair.
Once in the aisle chair you will be secured by straps and taken onboard, once your have arrived at your seat airline assistance will place your hand luggage into the overhead compartment.
When everything is clear, assistance members will ask you and the other members of the wheelchair assistance crew when ready, if everyone is ready you will be lifted out of the aisle chair and lowered into your designated plane seat.
The lack of toilet options during your flight is what I found to be the most difficult to do right. Some airlines have options to use the aisle chair to get you to the toilet, but don’t get your hopes up.
To be honest I have never had the option to use the toilet onboard, it’s way too narrow and has no safety grips or rails to hold yourself onto.
For short domestic flights I never drink any beverages before flight. The less fluid is entering my bladder the better.
Unfortunately for longer and international flights the past method is only helpful in combination with a medical grade and airline approved catheter.
Once you have landed at your destination, it’s time to deplane (exiting the airplane).
Don’t be alarmed to see other passengers exit the plane before you, they do this so that wheelchair assistance has all the time they need to get you safely of the airplane without getting in the way of the other passengers.
If for some reason you are still on the plane and other passengers are already deplaned, feel free to call a flight attendant via the overhead button and ask him/her about the status of the wheelchair assistance.
Once wheelchair assistance is onboard, they will help you deplane by doing the exact procedure that you experienced when you got onboard but in reverse order.
Don’t forget to take your cushion and personal belongings with you.
Once off the plane you can transfer to your own wheelchair if it’s at the gate waiting for you, or assistance will take you to the baggage claim hall where you can collect your wheelchair and baggage.
The only thing that remains is to go through customs and security, once you have cleared this you can enjoy the rest of your trip.
When it’s time to go back home, everything you have done to arrive at your destination will apply for the return trip as well.
- Don’t forget to book special assistance for wheelchair users
- Pick a direct flight if possible
- Check what you can bring onboard and what not
- Pack liquids in 100% clear plastic bottles (max 10 items) and store in a clear resealable bag
- Pack tablets, laptops last so it can be easily removed from the suitcase
- Medical certificate for all your medicines
- Hand luggage is no longer included in the ticket price (over 10 Kg you have to pay extra)
Enjoyed this guide? Share it with anyone you think could benefit from reading.
Have a great trip.