This is a very interesting question that most wheelchair users and caregivers ask, especially when flying is not your most frequent way to travel.
If you decide to fly, you might wonder: can I take your wheelchair on a plane?
Passengers not only can take wheelchairs on a plane, but they have the right to do so.
The rules on handling wheelchairs may vary depending on the airline company you have booked your tickets with.
You may be able to take your wheelchair into the cabin with you to be stowed in the overhead compartment or may need to check it at the ticket desk or at the gate near the aircraft (to go along with the luggage in the aircraft cargo compartment).
But one thing is certain: Using your wheelchair on a commercial flight is currently not an option.
In general, you will be able to use your wheelchair until you get to the boarding point close to the aircraft.
Aviation Travel Safe
You are normally transferred to a special aisle chair unless you can walk short distances.
Not the best or the most comfortable of the options once the airline wheelchair is not tailored to your needs, but you must know about it to plan accordingly.
Do not forget to request seats close to the entrance.
This will certainly make your life extremely easier on your flight.
You must check every detail with the airline company when purchasing your ticket.
I prefer to talk in person, or if you are buying your ticket online comfortably on your couch, call them instead of simply relying on the information you see on your laptop.
This will give you peace of mind, where you can count on the expertise of the airline customer service representative to assist you with all the details about a passenger in a wheelchair.
Some airline companies – especially the giant and most famous ones – offer special assistance for such special “passengers on wheels.”
Ask the airline representatives to give you the details of the type of assistance.
Airline companies must take good care of their customer with a disability, and the DOT outlines, among other rules:
- Assistance from the Terminal entrance (vehicle drop-off point)
- Assistance through the Security Checkpoint
- Priority boarding
- Airport assistance
- Wheelchair dispatch at the aircraft’s door on departure
- Moving the onboard wheelchair to the lavatory door and back to the seat
- And….. more (please check with the airline or your choice for your trip)
Again, make sure you talk to someone on the phone or at the airline ticket counter. It is worth it!
Wheelchair users require special assistance, and most airlines recommend that such requests for special assistance are made well in advance.
7 Tips to Avoid Surprises at Pre-Boarding and Boarding Procedures At Any Airport In A Wheelchair
You can fly anywhere, taking your wheelchair with you. What will vary is the procedure adopted by the numerous airline companies when allowing you to fly in your wheelchair.
To avoid surprises, try your best to make the whole event easier, not only for your comfort but also for the airline cabin and floor operations employees.
So, if you can do your part towards a pleasant trip…. Why not?
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- When booking/purchasing your air ticket, get ready to provide full details of your wheelchair type to the airline desk attendant or customer service (manual or electric, size, type of battery, etc.)
- Arrive with plenty of time for your departure. Wheelchair users will require more time to check in than passengers with no disabilities.
- Have the wheelchair dimensions handy. Depending on its size, you may be able to carry it to the cabin with you, to be stowed in the passenger compartment (especially if the wheelchair is foldable).
- Typically, you will be able to carry a foldable wheelchair to the cabin if the size is 25in high x 40in wide (63cm x 101cm). Some are smaller at around 25in x 38in (63cm x 96.5cm)
- If your wheelchair can not be carried to the aircraft cabin with you, it must be checked. In this case, make sure you inform the airline representative if you need the wheelchair back to you at the aircraft’s door or if you want to pick it up at baggage claim.
- If you are a frequent “wheelchair flier” or not, you can always consider having a second wheelchair, a lightweight one for trips or any out of routine activities that demands busier logistics (which will also help you: in and out of cars, up and down stairs, ramps, hills, etc.).
- Try your best to attach a quick guide to the wheelchair to show how to assemble/disassemble your wheelchair. It makes the work of the airline employees a lot faster and safer, also helping prevent parts damage.
Let’s see some details on manual and battery-powered wheelchairs in the next articles.
I will show you details on my research about airlines’ procedures on allowing wheelchairs on board with you or checking them for transport into the aircraft cargo compartment.
Manual Wheelchairs in Airplanes
Manual wheelchairs are the candidates (actually, the only candidates) to have a shot on the chance to go with you into the cabin if its size is within the airline imposed limits.
Anyway, the bottom line is that the airline will have the final word to determine if you need to check your wheelchair as luggage or keep it with you to be stowed in the overhead compartment (even when the size is under their limits).
The airline’s responsibility is to make sure your wheelchair is in the same condition, from point A to point B of your trip. No damages!
If the airplane has more than 100 passengers, then your foldable wheelchair has a good chance to be allowed in the overhead compartment in the cabin.
Needless to say that, the sooner you arrive at the airport for your checking, the better will be the chance to get on board with you (first-come basis).
Foldable Manual Wheelchairs are most likely to be accepted to go onboard with you than other types.
But, here is a catch: Airlines must carry only one manual wheelchair onboard/in the cabin.
This means they can deny a second wheelchair and so on, regardless of their sizes are good and within limits.
Regardless, you will have your wheelchair at the end of your trip, even if your wheelchair has to be checked in the cargo compartment of the aircraft (free of charge, as also required by the DOT.
Please have this in mind if you need to push to have your rights respected).
Lightweight, collapsible wheelchairs are very handy and are certainly a great help for the procedures within an airport and all the transit and handling that involves any air trip.
It goes beyond the airport boundaries, making your life easier when visiting tourist places in your vacation, supermarkets, loading and unloading your car, etc.
Depending on your type of disability, if allowed to have a lightweight wheelchair as a “Plan B” is a great thing to have. Food for thought!
Battery-Powered (electric) wheelchair on airplanes
You can fly carrying your battery-powered wheelchair with you on the trip: Absolutely. “Yes.”
But, you cannot have the wheelchair on board with you in the cabin: True. You cannot.
Battery-powered wheelchairs are usually large and heavier than the manual standard and transport wheelchairs.
Also, most electric wheelchairs carry lithium batteries.
These chairs can cause accidents if allowed in the seating areas of the aircraft, inside the overhead compartments (plus, they most likely will not fit).
You are not allowed to carry these types of wheelchairs on board, but the airline companies are also “required not to accept” them in the cabin area, according to the rules stated by the DOT.
In this case, your battery-powered wheelchair will be stowed in the cargo compartment of the aircraft due to safety precautions.
So, it will have to go in the airplane’s belly (the aircraft cargo compartment) together with all the passenger’s luggage.
The airline personnel must bring it back to you at the end of your trip as close as possible to the aircraft as promised unless you instruct them to send it to the baggage claim.
Important: perform a quick inspection before using your wheelchair when the airline company staff bring it back to you.
I hope you do not need to file a claim for any damage (fingers crossed).
If so, do not hesitate to file a claim with the airline company of choice for your compensation.