14 tips for flying with a disability and a wheelchair

 

A few weeks ago, I booked a flight for Dan and my upcoming Dallas trip. It will be the fifth flight we’ve taken throughout the past year and our second to the Lone Star state. We’re starting to get pretty good at this flying stuff 🙂

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After all of the pre-planning, we find ourselves sitting comfortably in our airline seats, sans wheelchair.

Interestingly enough, I woke up to this Facebook message from a dear friend: “You’ve flown before, right?”

Turns out she’s planning on flying to Florida and was looking for some insights into air travel with an Amigo scooter. She had some great questions, and I hope I gave her some good answers.

Let’s face it. Air travel can be quite daunting for most people as they navigate through security checkpoints, maintain their IDs and boarding passes, determine what they can and can’t carry on the plane, arrive at their gates on time and retain some energy to still have a good time after arriving at their respective destination.

Now imagine what that’s like when you’re traveling with a disability and a motorized wheelchair that absolutely has to arrive, fully functional, at the same destination at the same time as you.

Quite the challenge, right?

Dan and I realized that after we provided our perspectives of traveling with a disability and a mobility device to help our friend, maybe more people could benefit from the tricks we’ve learned from our experiences. So, we put together a little list that helps us each time we fly.

Know the right number to call and book your flight.
There are special numbers to call for accessible seating. Often times you sit in seats that actually have as much legroom as first class 🙂

Airline loyalty is worth the investment.
Don’t jump from airline to airline based on affordable prices. Find one that treats you well and stay true. We’ve had good success with Delta.

Get a direct flight if possible.
This eliminates any worries about the airlines losing your wheelchair or you rushing to make a connecting flight.

Check on accessible shuttles.
If you’re leaving a vehicle in a long-term parking lot at the airport, make sure it has wheelchair accessible vans to get you to the terminal.

Limit your fluid intake.
Stay hydrated, but, not too hydrated (most airplane restrooms aren’t handicapped accessible).

Get to the airport at least 2 1/2 hours early.
You need to get your wheelchair through security, but you also need to build in time so that you can go to the restroom a half-hour before the plane boards because the airline needs to take your wheelchair and load it on the plane.

Try to avoid checking luggage.
By the time you get off the airplane, the luggage carousel already may have finished and you will be left hoping that your bag is still there.

We actually took this picture so we have a "map" to consult each time we fly.
We actually took this picture so we have a “map” to consult each time we fly.

Pack efficiently.
Parts to your wheelchair may need to fit into your carry-on.

Don’t feel guilty.
You may feel awkward when you get to go to the front of the security line ahead of all the other passengers. But it takes a lot longer for you to get your wheelchair checked than it does for everybody else to stand and walk through the electronic screening.

Think about what you’re wearing.
Keep your apparel simple and minimize accessories so you can pass through security that much quicker.

Wear shoes that are easily removed.
Some TSA officers don’t require you to remove your shoes, others do. Be prepared.

Get used to looking like everyone else.
Without my wheelchair, I look just like every other passenger on the plane.

Do your homework.
Wherever you may be going, make sure you know what is available for accessible public transportation, wheelchair replacement and accessible hotel rooms.

Pack and bring your patience.
You will need it. And if things go wrong, it’s easier for the airlines to help you if you are a “pleasant” customer.

These are some of our top travel tips for flying with a wheelchair and a disability. What do you think? What tips do you have to help others flying the friendly skies?

16 Responses to 14 tips for flying with a disability and a wheelchair

    • Thanks for checking in, Annette! So glad you appreciated this comment 🙂 It truly is a great feeling when you’re on the plane, and nobody can tell you have a physical disability!

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’ve been looking for something simular. Do you happen to know some vacation spots that are good for anyone that may need assistance, like a scooter or just a very short amount of walking? I want to travel but am finding that I couldn’t do the walking it would require.
    Thanks, Linda

    • Hi, Linda. What kind of vacation spots interest you? Are you looking for things with nature, amusement parks, museums? Let us know for sure, and we can do what we can to help you find a good vacation destination.

  2. Great tips. One more, if the TSA agent patting you down demands to take off your shoes or is unreasonable, ask for their supervisor. You shouldn’t have to do that if you are getting a full pat down.

    • Thanks, Ian! Great tip to share and provide perspective. Indeed, sometimes TSA goes a little too far. We appreciate the added security, but there needs to be some respect for privacy too.

  3. Have the number and websites of wheelchair repair companies at your destination loaded in your phone in advance. Then, when the airline breaks your wheelchair, you know who to call. If there is damage to your chair when you land, do not leave the airport without filing paperwork with the airline claiming the damage. It doesn’t matter if you have arranged ground transportation. If there is damage,report it immediately – otherwise, the airline will deny it. Whenever possible, avoid regional jets. Stick to larger jets that have unobstructed cargo bay doors. It’s easier for the ground crew to load your chair, theoretically decreasing the chance of damage. I refuse to fly Delta due to my poor experience with their “customer service.” I am a Southwest fan.

    • Speak the truth, Denise! We did have an instant when Jennifer’s wheelchair was damaged. The airline (Delta) was very helpful in our experience, but still. There’s only so much they can do. Fortunately it happened when we had returned home to Michigan, so we knew where to get it fixed. We wouldn’t have had that luxury (if you can call fixing a broken wheelchair a luxury!) had it happened in the place we were traveling to. Such a helpful piece of advice to share. Thanks 🙂

  4. Spot on Dan & Jen! You have covered the bases.
    I travel with my chair & the airlines have been superb about having it there as soon as I come off the plane.
    We always wait till everyone else has exited the plane before exiting to avoid causing slow downs & frustrating other passengers.

    Great advice. Happy traveling!

    • Thanks, Doug! It almost always feels like a religious experience of sorts boarding and unbarring the plane: The last shall be first and the first shall be last 🙂

  5. I am in a powered wheelchair and yes overweight. I can no longer walk or transfer or stand up so I cannot fly and would love a holiday… help x

    • Thanks for checking in with us, Ann. What kind of holiday would you like? When Dan and I started traveling, we took short trips close to home. Do you have places nearby your home that interest you? We’d love to hear more about what you have in mind 🙂

  6. Thanks so much for the tips. I am in a power wheelchair and can only transfer using a slide board. Transferring into and out of an airplane seat scares the hell out of me. So does having my wheelchair damaged, lost, etc. Haven’t been on a trip in 9 years.

  7. I love the suggestion about not feeling guilty. It’s always awkward when you have to cut in line to the front. However, you’re totally right that you need to remember that it’s ok since it’ll take longer to get your wheelchair checked.

  8. I like how you recommended doing some research and making sure you know what is available for transportation. While you mentioned public transportation specifically, I think you could also look for private transportation or hiring someone who could come and pick you up and take you where you need to go. A private service is more likely to have any specialized equipment that would be necessary for transporting wheelchairs and have the experience to handle those same situations as well.

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