Advice for flying with a wheelchair?

Hi everybody. Any advice on how to prepare/get ready for flying somewhere with a wheelchair? Any particular airlines you recommend or travel hacks you’ve found? Any and all advice is appreciated. Thank you!!

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I frequently fly with a chair. I do not check it but gate check instead. It is a manual chair. I don’t bring my best chair but an older serviceable chair. I take my cushion on the plane with me and sit on it if the seat is wide enough. I zip tie all the parts that can be removed so they don’t get lost. It still gets damaged occasionally but this way works. I also make sure I have at least 1 hour between flights because you will be near the last one off since they have to unload your chair. It is always stressful because you worry about them getting your chair off the plane correctly. They always try to talk me into using their chair but the thing is if you get stuck somewhere then you are without your own chair

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Hi there! I fly Delta exclusively but that’s because I live in Atlanta and this is their hub and I’ve never had a bad experience. Others may disagree. I’ve heard that Southwest is pretty good also. My three go-to hacks are 1) to take a picture of my wheelchair from all angles or record a short video before I get on the plane so I have proof of my wheelchair’s condition. 2) I tape an AirTag somewhere inconspicuous on my wheelchair so I know where it is all times. 3) Make sure you contact the airline to let them know that you are traveling by wheelchair and what your accessibility needs are. Delta has an online form you can fill out and if you are a Skymiles member you can add your needs to your profile.

I’m sure others have great hacks to offer as well!

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We normally fly delta but it really has to do that we are a delta hub. I agree with earlier comments and will only state what is different. I make sure our name is marked on any peoice that can come off the chair. We bring into the plane all parts that are easily removed such as the seat, back and wheel guards. We found a bag that fits them all to make it easier to load and unload. Nothing worse than leaving a part on the plane and have to explain to a flight attendant where it is. Get to the gate early and recheck in with the person working the gate. You should always be loaded first. You need to get a gate check tag for the chair.

You need to be in charge of your experience but you will be very vulnerable during this time as you depend on the airline to load and unload you and your chair. Put on your nice face as most people you are dealing with are mildly trained to work with you but are trying their best. I find this the hard part especially after a long flight.

Enjoy you travels. It is worth it.

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I have flown Southwest, American and Delta. I contact the airlines and let them know I am traveling with a wheelchair. I always carry the specs with me in case there are any questions. I also carry a detailed letter stating where I am flying from and to as well as instructions on how to place the wheelchair in freewheel mode and of course I thank them. I have never had any problems, happy flying.

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An important element is the type of chair you use. I use the narrowest manual chair I can. I fly Southwest because I can roll onto to the plane and as far as the first row of seats, meaning I don’t have to transfer to an aisle chair. When I am in my seat, I disassemble my wheelchair as much as possible and put the parts, like arms and footrests and cushion and any other part into the overhead compartment.

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In addition to other comments, I recently travelled to Mexico with my electric wheelchair. You need to be able to remove the battery and stow it in your carry-on or overhead bin (confirm these requirements with your airline in advance. I also got a wheelchair handling guide (designed for airline cargo staff), printed and laminated it, and zip-tied it to the back of the chair.

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Agree with all of the above and in addition:

  1. When you make your reservation/buy your ticket make sure you inform the airline that you will be traveling with your own wheelchair, if you are doing it online there is usually a place to request assistance and let them know about your needs.
  2. Make sure the airline fills out an inspection ticket and attached it to your wheelchair, that way if it is damaged in transit you have a way to make a claim with the airline.
  3. Let the agent at the check in desk and the agent at the gate know if you will need the aisle chair to get to your seat. Odds are you will if you can’t walk. Almost every large and medium sized airport has a contractor that supplies staff to do this, not the airline personnel themselves so there needs to be coordination between the airline and the assistance provider, especially since you will board first, which is always preferable. Nothing worse than sitting there waiting for the transfer people to come while all the other passengers are standing there waiting to board.
  4. You won’t be able to use the restroom most likely so plan your fluid intake accordingly and try to use the restroom just before you board. Most airlines start boarding 30 minutes prior to the listed departure time ( more than that for international flights). I usually try to use the restroom one hour before departure time. Also you are first on and last off so again, plan on not being avuto use a restroom till about 30 minutes after your scheduled arrival time (it usually takes about 20 minutes for everyone else to get off and for the assistance staff to get you off the plane and back in your chair.
  5. Tell the agents at the gate area that you want to “gate check” your wheelchair and have it waiting for you at the door of the plane at the conclusion of the flight. If you have a connecting flight make sure you explicitly tell them you want your chair at the conclusion of each leg, otherwise it may end up being transferred from one plane to the other plane with the rest of the checked luggage.
  6. I fly Southwest a lot and find that their staff is always good to work with and have an excellent attitude and deal well with wheelchair users. Also with Southwest they have open seating and if you are able to transfer independently and are of average size you may not need to use the aisle chair as the first row of seats are easily accessible to a wheelchair and you can transfer directly.
  7. Enjoy the ride!!
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I try to fly Southwest because they use their own crew for loading and unloading the planes. The other airlines use the airport people. Bubble wrap any controllers. Disconnect things that are not connected through the controller that may be on all the time. Gate check. Remove anything that can be removed.

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I have flown Southwest. You need more than 1 hour for transfer. We thought we would be sitting waiting. NO, we barely made the flight. We asked that they notify the next plane, but there was a problem with communication. No bathroom break for me. I can’t remember if the first flight was late, but that is a typical problem so plan ahead.

Plan with the airlines for an escort to/from/and between flights. They will help you through security and take you directly to where you need to be.

Be sure and prepare your ears. clear sinuses, chew gum, have a hot towel to hold over your ear if you have trouble. They can get you the hot water, but it can’t be in a cup. Bring your own towel. It works better than a paper towel.

One of the planes had the compartment to carry one wheelchair in the cabin. They didn’t use that for any wheelchair. The staff were using it for their stuff. It is next to the door about as tall as a wheelchair and looks like a knee wall. On the seat side you can see the markings that it is for wheelchairs. Check the rules about using it. You may have to insist.

Have fun, keep thinking happy thoughts. Remember your meditation. Insight timer is good for traveling.

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Communication is key - communicate with the airline, the airport and TSA when you book, and a few days before your trip and day of. Let them know your disability level, what kind of help you will need, the make, weight etc of your wheelchair, and the type of battery your power chair has. Have a laminated sheet attached to the chair which shows where the brakes are etc, plus your name and cell phone number. Take controller with you on the plane. Insist they have your wheelchair waiting for you as soon as you leave the aircraft on arrival. Take your seat cushion with you on board the plane to help prevent pressure wounds. Enjoy your travels.

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Recently, I took a domestic flight with American Airlines. They have a specific phone number for ADA-compliant concerns, and the agents are always helpful. Those phone numbers are 800-778-4838 or 800-455-9880. They will ask you if you need curbside service meaning a concierge will meet you at departures with a wheelchair or just be there to carry your luggage. You do not have to wait in the long TSA lines, but you will go through screening with one of the TSA agents, either in public or private. After the TSA screening, the concierge will assist you to your gate. You get priority boarding and will not be charged extra for your wheelchair to be stowed down below. Should you need assistance with your seat, they have a transfer chair that will fit down the aisle to take you directly to your seat. The main thing is that you call ahead of time and speak with the airline. I cannot speak for any other airlines compared to the experience that I encountered with AA. I hope this helps.