12 Tips for Taking to the Skies in a Wheelchair
Traveling with a wheelchair requires work up front,
but the adventures awaiting you are worth the effort. So get
ready to put your phone in airplane mode, stow your tray tables
and prepare for take-off!
1. Be an early bird: If possible, book your flights ahead of
time rather than at the last minute. On the days you’re
traveling, get to the airport early — most airlines recommend
being at your gate an hour before departure. When you’re figuring
out when to leave home, factor in extra time to check in and go
2. Repeat yourself: When you’re booking your ticket, tell
the agent if you will need airlines/airports to provide a
wheelchair for you, or if you’ll be bringing your own. If you book
online and there’s no opportunity to include this information,
contact the airline so an agent can add this note to your customer
file. When checking in, tell that agent about your mobility situation
as well. If you’ll bring a service animal with you, let the
airlines know that, too.
3. Get a wheelchair check-up: Before you travel, make
sure your wheelchair (and batteries, if applicable) are in
tip-top shape. Schedule a check-up with your wheelchair provider
or repair technician.
4. Know your batteries: While your wheelchair is getting
checked over, ask the technician about your batteries.
Airlines have different safety policies for how batteries are
handled/stored based on type (wet, dry or lithium). If your
batteries need to be removed and/or specially packaged prior to
flight, you might need to arrive at the airport earlier. Check with
your airline to ask when to arrive.
5. Know how your wheelchair folds or disassembles: This is especially true if you have a wheelchair that will
travel in the cargo hold rather than in the aircraft cabin. Know
which parts — e.g., wheels, seat cushion — come off the wheelchair.
Many travel experts recommend that you carry these parts
with you into the cabin if your chair must travel in the cargo area.
6. Identify your property: Put your name — and contact
information, if you feel comfortable providing it — on your
wheelchair and each removable part. Some airlines also recommend
or require you to provide information on how to fold/disassemble
the chair, plus other identifying information, such as the
chair’s serial number.
7. Give workers a hand: If you provide additional information
about your wheelchair, include a photo or diagram
of how to lift it, i.e., where airline workers should place their
hands on the chair when holding and lifting. One major airline
recommends laminating the instructions and attaching them to
your chair to reduce the likelihood of instructions being lost or
damaged beyond readability.
8. Study up: Airlines have their own preferences for policies
such as how far in advance they’d like to know you’ll be
bringing a wheelchair or service animal with you. Ask what your
particular airlines prefer.
9. Know your rights before you go: There are some regulations
that all airlines (and passengers) need to follow. For
instance, aircraft with at least 100 passenger seats must have a
space to store at least one folding wheelchair, and aircraft with
more than 60 passenger seats and an accessible bathroom must
provide an on-board wheelchair for passengers to use. Read your
10. Make transfers easier: When you book your ticket, ask
for a seat with an armrest that flips up out of your way if
that would make transfers easier, and/or a seat in a bulkhead row
(the row behind airplane walls), which typically offers a little more
room than other rows.
11. Don’t forget Spot’s information: Look up your
airports’ service animal relief areas before you leave home:
petfriendlytravel.com/airports. Most relief areas are outside
of secure areas, meaning that if you visit one, you will have
to go through security again to get back to your gate. So plan
12. Speak up: If you have trouble with accessibility at an airport
or during your flight, ask to speak to a Complaints Resolution
Official (CRO). During operating hours, each airport must have a
CRO available to speak with you in person or by phone.