Air Travel 101: Tips for Flying with a Disability

wheelchair air travel

Spring has finally sprung, and with spring and summer come the desire to get out and about. For some wheelchair users, this means hitting the open road in one of our new or used handicap vans. For others, this means taking flight to a far off destination. And, whether that destination is domestic or international, there are a few additional things to consider for travelers in wheelchairs to consider while planning their trip.

While some of these considerations could be as simple as needing extra time to get through security, others could be much more complex. And, if you have never traveled by plane as a wheelchair user or with a wheelchair user, you may be surprised to learn that it can be a bit more complicated of a process. If you are considering traveling by plane with a wheelchair in the near future, here are a few tips we put together to hopefully make it a little bit easier.

Pre-flight Preparations

Whenever you are planning a trip, it is always best to do as much research as possible before you finalize any plans. This includes airline accommodations. Contact any of the possible airlines you may be traveling with and get as much information as you can about their wheelchair accommodations. This should include everything from the boarding process, in-flight accommodations, the de-boarding process, and any information you can obtain about how the airline will stow your wheelchair (we will cover each of these more in depth later in this post).

This should also include information specific to the flight you are considering. For example, some planes are more accommodating to wheelchair users than others. The airline should be able to tell you if a specific plane model will be unable to accommodate your wheelchair or other equipment you may be flying with. They will also be able to recommend seat locations that will be most comfortable for your travel, and also the easiest to transfer into (either with or without assistance).

Arrival and Security

Once you have selected an airline and booked your seat, it is time to take flight. TSA often recommends travelers arrive at least two hours ahead of a flight to ensure enough time to get through security and board their flight. For wheelchair users, it is always best to arrive extra early to avoid delays when going through the security line and also while boarding the plane. It may be best to arrive at least three hours ahead of a flight, but make sure to check with your specific airline to see if they recommend another timeline.

When you arrive at the front of the security line, you will be asked if you are able to walk through the standard metal detector. If you are unable to do so, you will be directed around the standard metal detectors and wait for a TSA agent of your same gender to come over. They will conduct a thorough search both of your person and also of your wheelchair to ensure you are not carrying anything that does not fall within TSA regulations.

Boarding the Plane

Prior to boarding your flight, it is always best to make sure you have used the restroom and taken any medications you are able to take. It may be more difficult to use the restroom or take medications once you have boarded the plane. The airline attendants should allow wheelchair users to board the flight prior to other passengers, as this often requires additional time.

Once you are ready to board, the airline attendants will assist you in transferring from your wheelchair into a special chair designed to navigate the aisles of the airplane. Your wheelchair will likely be stowed in the cargo area of the plane. From there, the attendants will assist you or assist your caregiver with the transfer from the chair into an airplane seat.

In-Flight Accommodations

During the flight, the airline attendants will be able to assist you with anything you need, with a few exceptions. The main exception being that they will not be able to help you inside the restroom. They will be able to help you transfer into the airplane wheelchair and wheel you to the restroom, but they won’t be able to assist with the transfer into or back out of the restroom.

De-boarding the Plane

Once the plane has landed, it will be time to de-board the aircraft. The airline may ask that you wait until all the other passengers have gotten off the plane before they will assist you in the de-boarding process. This will not only allow for an easier transfer back into the airplane wheelchair, but it will also allow extra time for your wheelchair to be brought back up from the cargo hold.

One point of note: we recommend knowing everything there is to know about your wheelchair. Many airlines will stow your wheelchair in the cargo area, and on occasion they will need to either fully or partially dismantle the wheelchair to load it. This is often because a wheelchair is too heavy to lift into the cargo area all in one piece. Knowing as much as possible about your wheelchair and how it is assembled, will help you avoid being in a situation where you may be without your wheelchair because it was unable to be reassembled after your flight.

Take Flight or Hit the Open Road

Air travel can easily be something that wheelchair users can take a part in. It just takes a bit of additional and thoughtful planning. So, now that spring is in the air, what are you waiting for? And, whether you are ready to take flight or roll down the windows and hit the open road, our team at Rollx Vans will be here waiting to help you make your travel dreams a reality. Contact us today to learn more about our new and used handicap vans, we promise you won’t regret that you did.

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