Flying with a wheelchair
Air travel basics to make your trip as easy as possible
Plan ahead with your airline or travel agent
If you’ve read our other guides within our Travelling With A Disability section, you’ll know that a common theme in our advice is that of being forward thinking with your plans. If you’re unsure about all the details to take care of, you may want to tap into the expertise of a travel agent; they’re well-versed in helping disabled customers get the best care as they fly, and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.
If you don’t feel the need to use a travel agent, you’ll want to speak with the airline directly, or ensure you’ve advised the booking includes a disabled traveller (whether that’s you or someone else in your family or group).
Booking the ticket with conditions
With much of airline ticket booking happening online, most main providers have an option to select that advises them you have special requirements. Make sure this box is checked and if prompted, provide details of the mobility requirements. The airline may contact you to discuss the requirements further so they can make plans to accommodate you on the day you’re due to fly.
Asking for options
When you’re in the booking stage, you might want to enquire with the travel agent or airline as to the options at your disposal for disabled passengers. This may include different degrees of help that match the level of support required, or you may wish to get different prices for each class of seat.
One thing is for sure – if you live in places like the USA, UK, NZ, Australia and Canada, airlines are required to provide accommodations for disabled passengers.
Arriving nice and early
On the day of your flight, you’ll have been asked to arrive a bit earlier than other passengers if flying domestic, and possibly even if flying international. This is because airlines require those with a wheelchair to check this in at the desk vs. a kiosk. Depending on the airline, you may even have a special requirements desk that allows you and your group priority access to check in.
Finding the gate and checking in with airline staff
Airline staff will assist you with locating the gate. If the mobility impaired individual is with a group who are comfortable locating this, they will be left to do so. If required, the airline staff will help the individual get to the gate – often in the airline’s own wheelchair.
As someone with reduced mobility is unable to board and access their seat quickly, those with special assistance requirements will be boarded first. Typically an airline staff member will help navigate the passenger to the plane, working with other flight attendants to board and find their seat. Once this is done, the remaining passengers will be allowed to board – you may have seen this process a number of times when you last flew.
Travel chairs as check-in luggage
Wheelchairs and checking in as luggage
Many disabled travellers rightly want to take their wheelchairs on the holiday with them. There’s a few things to note:
- You’ll want to ensure your wheelchair is able to be packed down and set up again relatively easily.
- Get the wheelchair serviced and checked before travelling to ensure this is possible.
- Consider bringing packing material to protect components of the wheelchair, such as bubble wrapping protruding hand brakes or controls.
- If an electric wheelchair with a removable joystick or control, remove this, wrap it and place it in checked luggage for the flight – this protects it from getting damaged in transit.
Considering all legs of your journey
What’s critical for wheelchair users and their companions to consider is the feasibility of taking the wheelchair on all flights, both international and domestic. The international flight is usually the most straightforward in terms of transporting a wheelchair.
Do all flights allow your equipment to come with you?
It’s essential to check with domestic airlines within your destination country about their policies on wheelchairs as luggage and whether there are any hidden costs associated with this. It’s rare in western countries, but with thousands of airlines in existence, it’s a good idea to make sure.
Are there additional costs involved with more luggage checking in?
Again, it’s rare that you’d be charged extra for a wheelchair, but check with each airline you’re planning on flying with – before booking.
Keeping your travel chair travel ready
Keeping A Wheelchair In Good Condition For Travel
Wheelchairs for many living with mobility impairments are central to movement on holiday. It means that chairs that come on holiday need to be high quality, durable and have all components working perfectly immediately before setting off on holiday.
Pre-travel maintenance and checks on the wheelchair
Work with your regular OT or health provider to arrange a full check and service of the wheelchair. Check for:
- Brakes all working
- Drive wheels move unimpeded
- Arm and feet rests retract and return to position
- Back rest correctly positioned
- Seat firmly secure and rip free
- Fixtures all tight
- General chair condition free of rust, tears or loose components
You may also want to bring a wheelchair servicing toolkit with you on holiday – these should come with your chair, otherwise speak to your OT about how to access these tools.
Correct pack-down and storage of wheelchair for flight
Each wheelchair is designed differently and allows varying degrees of breaking down to a smaller footprint for travel. Wheelchair models have different methods of releasing a fixed position to pack down, but typically will fold somewhere in the seat, for instance, lifting up the seat will pull all four corners in. Otherwise, some chairs will fold in half. You may also need to use a release lever somewhere on the chair.
What’s important regardless of the wheelchair model is that the unit is properly packed down to it’s most compact position and is not going to come loose while in transit. Your chair may have a catch that prevents it from expanding. Otherwise consider wrapping the chair in bubble wrap or a cover at home before getting to the airport.
Remember, the airports all have wheelchairs, so you shouldn’t need this from the moment you are travelling to the airport to the point you are leaving the airport at your destination – or even getting to the accommodation at the other end.
Should you rent or buy a travel chair?
Travelling with hired wheelchairs vs. your own one
There’s no one right answer as to whether a mobility impaired traveller should go away with their own wheelchair or hire one for the trip. But here’s some benefits of each option:
Bringing you own chair
- Users and their family/companion know the chair well, making it easier to deal with in a fast-paced environment on holiday.
- You save on additional costs of hiring a chair.
- An unfamiliar chair may require a learning curve which can be an unwelcome distraction on holiday.
- Travel companion(s) can practice packing down and setting up at home before the holiday to get the trick down.
- You don’t have to worry about being liable for damage to rented equipment if the unexpected happens.
Hiring a chair on holiday
- You don’t have to worry about the logistics of taking a chair on flights if you hire a chair in the destination only.
- There may be service support for the hired chair in that destination through an accessibility equipment hire provider if needed.
- You can hire a chair that better suits the environment of your destination vs. one that you may use at home.
- The provision of a chair may be able to be coordinated with your hotel, i.e. they deliver you one as soon as you check in.
Learn more about Showerbuddy’s range for disabled travellers
While you may have the wheelchair sorted, how about bathroom mobility? Showerbuddy provides solutions for mobility-impaired travellers. Head over to our travel range page to explore our purpose-built travel shower chairs. A good bathroom mobility chair that can come on the road with you makes travel much easier.
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