Airplane Transfers

From a community member:

I have read that air travel is the worst part of a vacation for someone who cannot transfer to a seat. That airline personnel are not well-equipped or knowledgeable enough to get someone from chair to lift to seat. Just wondering what experiences we could learn from to make our decision to fly. No destination in mind but we’d be flying from possibly Orlando. Atlanta is 5 hours away. Thanks for any help.

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We fly Southwest my husband is in a wheelchair left side paralyzed he uses his wheelchair to get to the plane and then they store it underneath he also sits in the bulkhead and just transfers easily into the seat but do not know about other airlines but Southwest it’s always been good for us they’ll also use their wheelchair to take him from point a to point B if necessary hope this helps

I fly out of Atlanta a lot and have not had trouble with transfers… I cannot walk, but am fairly mobile so I can help with the transfers

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No matter the airline there will always be a few challenges although over the years they have gotten better especially if you have someone with you for those few mistakes.
I frequently fly alone for business. I can stand pivot but depending on the seat available that can be an issue.
I would say the biggest 2 problems I have run into have been jet bridges but Atlanta is good there. Some airports don’t have a ramp and they carry you up the stairs in an aisle chair. Not fun.
The other challenge is the bathroom. They are very small and very hard to transfer into and 5 hours is a long time.

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The last time I flew was 5 years ago for my son’s wedding. It was a nightmare. They lost my wheelchair so we had to wait at DC airport until they located it. The flew into Miami after waiting in Orlando and then Miami lost my chair. Total nightmare nightmare.

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It all depends on what type of assistance you require and what mobility device you use.
I use a manual wheelchair full time, I cannot move my legs at all so I either fly Southwest and pre-board and am able to ride my own wheelchair right up to the first row and transfer myself. Other airlines without open seating I need to have an aisle chair to get to my seat which requires the assistance of two staff. Most important thing is to communicate, communicate, communicate… to everyone about what your needs are. Tell them at the initial check in at the airport. Tell them at the customer service desk in the gate area and also talk to the staff person that is working to board that particular flight. If you have a mobility device and want to be able to use it up until you get on the plane and have it waiting at the door of the plane when you get to your destination make sure it is “gate checked”. Many airlines put a luggage tag on wheelchairs and walkers but you also need that additional gate check tag otherwise it will end up being sent to baggage claim instead of being available at the door. This is especially important if you have a personal wheelchair


I have limited Mobility and I’m a travel agent and this is what I always do I contact the airlines prior to my travel several days before and let them know exactly what I need, that I will be riding my electric scooter to the check-in point I will need assistance to get on to an aisle chair mover by 2 or more staff, they will then buckle me in on that and they roll me on to the airplane and it fits down the aisle every time I’ve always had them even relocate people so that I can sit on the very first row if that row was not available when I booked. They also have my wheelchair waiting when the plane arrives and they do the same thing to take me off they put me on to a small aisle chair that rolls between the aisles and and then take me off and assist me in getting on my scooter

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I live in Atlanta and fly Delta exclusively and I haven’t had an issues but I will say, as someone else has, that communication is key. My husband and I recently came back from a vacation in Hawaii and I made sure Delta knew exactly what type of assistance I needed as a full time wheelchair user. I do have some limited mobility so I can help with my transfers but I was impressed when I arrived at my gate and the gate agent read back to me what my needs were as I had given them. Then on the way back form Hawaii a gate agent had me fill out a form that explained how my chair should be handled and what condition it was in when it left my possession so if anything was wrong when I got it back in could be addressed. Just make sure to tell them explicitly what you need and hopefully that will be enough.


As a few people on here have said, communication is the key. Begin to communicate as soon as you’re purchasing tickets. Communicate via email and telephone. Communicate with the airline, airport and TSA. All three should have sections on their websites to fill in your information and details. Ask the airline to have experienced, strong people doing the lifting.
It sounds like a lot to do but it’s worth it.


Please reply with specifics of what kind of transfer you will need.

I am a C-5 six quadriplegic. I need two people to lift me from my power wheelchair to what they call an aisle chair. From the aisle chair I am then lifted by those two people into the airplane seat. In my experience over 25 years of flying it has to do with the destinations. Some airports they hire and train knowledgeable people. At othersYou have to lead them through the process.
Tips on my process:

In the comments when you buy your tickets online, make sure you request transfer assistance.
Get to the airport early. You were going to be the first one on the plane. This will give you time to adjust yourself in your seat once the transfer is finished.
At the check-in, make sure you tell them that you will need transfer assistance one or two people depending on your needs.
At the check-in counter, make sure you tell them you will stay in your wheelchair until you get on the plane and that you want your wheelchair back in the gangway when you get off the plane.
At the gate, make sure you sit as close to the gate counter as possible so they can always see you.
At the gate, suggest that they move your seat to the bulkhead. This area has noticed the direct seat in front of it so it gives you room to transfer whether you need one or two people to assist you. (The airline does not have to give you this)
At the gangway, instruct your attendance how to fold your wheelchair if it can be done. If a power wheelchair, instruct them how to turn it off and put in manual mode.
Here are instructions if you will be transferring to an aisle chair:
Make sure the aisle chairs back side is facing the airplane.
Park your power wheelchair with the joystick on the opposite side of the aisle chair and your back facing the airplane.
If you have two attendance, make sure the taller one is behind you.
The taller one will be behind you and they will cross their arms under your armpits to lift you. The shorter one will cross their arms under your knees and together they will lift you out of the power chair and into the aisle chair.
The taller one, because he/she is behind you will now pull you through the airplane to your seat.
If you use a cushion on your power wheelchair, place it on your airplane seat before you transfer to the airplane seat.
Use the same lifting technique to get you into the airplane seat.
If you need to May need to ask them to hoist you up more than once so that you’re comfortable. Sometimes it’s good if they grab you by the belt loops if you are to slouched.
Make sure they don’t transfer you on top of the seatbelts. And have someone buckle with your seatbelt before they go away.
The experience people can do this with ease. The inexperienced people see very different people and I’m not sure what to do unless you guide them. But all of them want to help you be comfortable.
The most ironic experience I have ever had was flying out of my hometown airport and the transferers almost dropped me on the floor but when I landed in a foreign country, the transferers could not speak any English but landed me like a baby on a pillow.


Thank you for this precious information

My husband has to use an aisle chair to get on the plane. Plan on being first one on and last one off plane. We look for direct flights. If we have to transfer we look for flights with at least a 90 minute layover. Our favorite airline is Southwest.

I posted about this just now but will do so again as it fits this conversation topic.
Members of this forum may find this both interesting and useful for assistance at airports, something which we all unfortunately need.