Here are some tips to make air travel easier and safer if you are a wheelchair user:
- Purchase your airfare tickets online so that you can provide info about assistance and equipment.
- Call 48 hours before your flight to alert the airline again about assistance needed and equipment that will be brought.
- When going through TSA, there is a separate entrance for those that cannot go through electronic scanning station. Make sure you let the TSA agent know if you have any physical limitations that limit your ability to get scanned, i.e. lifting your arms, leaning forward.
- Alert the ticket agent and flight crew that you will be bringing equipment that will need to be stowed and that you will require assistance (items needed for wheelchair or medical devices do not count towards carry on limit in most airlines). One manual chair can be stowed in the main cabin. Power chairs, scooters and tilt in space chairs must be stowed in the baggage area.
- Label clearly where the chair can be lifted from to prevent damage.
- Alert the airline to the weight of the chair and which parts will be staying on the wheelchair during travel (i.e. joystick, footrests, etc.). Make sure the ground staff knows how to lock and unlock the wheels so that the chair does not roll to prevent risk of falling to ground.
- Alert the airline what type of batteries are on aircraft, as they are required to know. Gel/dry cell batteries do not need to be removed (typically found on power chair).
Additional tips to keep your chair safe while traveling:
- Take a picture of the chair from the front, sides and back before leaving it in the jetway so that you can assess for damage.
- Remove any accessories that can be easily removed from the chair and brought onto the plane (i.e. arm rests, joystick); bring extra tires or patches in case of damage.
- Bring tools to dissemble and reassemble chair, zip ties if needed to manage cords. Store it in a duffel bag so that you do not lose anything.
- Look into purchasing a cover for the joystick.
- Wrap your chair in plastic wrap to prevent scratches during transport.
Tips for boarding/sitting during flight:
- Most aircrafts will require a transfer to a boarding chair to fit down the aisles. A mechanical lift should be available to assist in transfer if needed.
- Request that the transfer to the boarding chair occurs RIGHT before boarding the flight to decrease the amount of time you are in the boarding chair as it is not pressure relieving.
- Bring your cushion to sit on during the flight. Bring an air pump, if it is an air-filled cushion. Take caution that the cushion may inflate or deflate during the flight due to pressure changes.
- If sitting on cushion makes it so that your feet do not touch the ground; place your feet on a backpack or additional cushion to provide support.
If you have questions or concerns about traveling by airplane, reach out to your Occupational or Physical Therapist for additional support.
~Amanda Brennan, OTRL