Air Travel Tips for Wheelchair or
More Air Travel Information
Did you know that airlines are
not covered under the ADA? To learn about your rights
on U.S. air carriers, free publications are available:
A 28-page information booklet on the
Air Carriers Access Act offers a wealth of information
on what you can expect and what to do if you have a
complaint. Contact: The Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now known as United Spinal Association)
The U.S. Department of Transportation
has a 40-page booklet, "New Horizons, Information
for the Air Traveler with a Disability." Contact
PVA Distribution Center, (888) 860-7244 (Order No. 2100-16)
The U.S. Department of Transportation
has established a toll-free hotline to assist
air travelers with disabilities. The hotline will provide
general information to consumers about the rights of air travelers
with disabilities, respond to requests for printed consumer
information, and assist air travelers with time-sensitive
disability-related issues that need to be addressed
in "real time." The line is staffed from 7
a.m. to 11p.m. eastern time, seven days a week. Air
travelers who experience disability-related air travel
service problems may call the hotline at 1-800-778-4838
(voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY) to obtain assistance.
The D.O.T. requires all air carriers
to compensate passengers for the full cost of repairing
damaged wheelchairs or the original purchase price if
the damage is beyond repair. The new rule is available
for viewing and/or downloading from www.dot.gov
Travel Care Companions, Inc. provides
personal assistance and companionship for people who
are elderly or have disabilities and who have special
needs. Contact TCC at
If you need to carry medicine that
needs refrigeration, carry it in a small, thermal shoulder
pack (they're available as lunchboxes at discount stores
such as K-Mart or Target) and place a cool pack or ice
inside it. Keep syringes together with your medicine:
One without the other is useless to you. If it's a lengthy
flight, ask a flight attendant to stow your medicine
and cool pack in the plane's refrigeration area, but
hang onto your thermal shoulder pack and syringes.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security screeners at airports
are not allowed to separate a blind passenger from a guide
dog, and then take the harness off the animal. Screeners also
will talk to blind passengers, helping them to empty their
pockets of metal and make sure they reclaim their items at
the other end of the X-ray machine. Screeners will keep the
guide dog's harness on as the animal goes through the metal
detector, then pat down the dog by hand.
Passengers in wheelchairs who can't
walk through the detectors will be offered a private area
where a screener will search them by hand. TSA's goal is to
ensure that every passenger with a disability knows what to
expect at every airport, every time, everywhere," said
Sandra Cammaroto, manager of TSA's screening of persons with
disabilities program. For more information regarding the new
regulations affecting passengers with disabilities, please
When you make your
by Carol Randall
Reprinted with permission
- Make your reservation as far in advance
- Tell the reservation clerk that you are
traveling with a wheelchair or scooter. Inform the reservation
clerk if you need boarding assistance, or an aisle chair
to get to your seat. An aisle chair is a high-backed narrow
wheelchair designed to fit down the aisle of an airplane.
It is used to assist passengers who cannot walk.
- If you are able to use a standard airplane
restroom but are unable to walk, request that an aisle chair
also be available on your flight.
- Always confirm your requests 48 hours
prior to departure.
- Request an aisle seat with a lift-up
armrest (if available), as it makes transferring easier.
When you get to the airport:
- Arrive early.
- Check your chair or scooter at the boarding
gate (no sooner), and request it be brought to you at your
- It is suggested you use gel-filled or
foam-filled batteries in your scooter or power chair because
they are not required to be removed for transport (acid-filled
batteries are required to be removed). Carry the paperwork
on the batteries with you in case any questions arise.
- Your folding wheelchair can be stowed
in the on-board coat closet. There is usually only room
for one wheelchair and it is available on a first-come,
first-served basis, so arrive early to make your request.
- Make sure your name and address is on
your equipment, and that it has a gate delivery tag if it
is being stowed below.
- For damage control, tape clear disassembly
instructions on all scooters or power chairs. This includes
battery disconnection instructions, along with instructions
for any other disassembly required for transport. Remember,
even if you are available to give instructions to the crew
at your departure airport, the crew at your arrival airport
didn't see how your equipment came apart.
- Another way to protect an electric wheelchair
from damage during air travel is to carry on all removable
parts, and wrap the entire base of the chair with plastic
wrap. This helps prevent scratches and dings. It also encapsulates
the wires so nothing gets unplugged. Place a sticker on
the batteries to indicate that they are sealed gel-filled
- If you need assistance transferring to
the airplane seat, take responsibility for yourself and
tell the staff how to help you. Yes, they should be trained,
but you are always safer if you don't assume anything.
- Before landing remind the flight attendant
that you will need your equipment brought to the gate, so
they can radio ahead to make arrangements.
- If you have any problems or your equipment
is damaged, ask to speak to the "Complaint Resolution
- If you are traveling with a scooter
or power chair, make sure you arrange for transportation
that can accommodate your equipment at your destination.
The key to a safe and comfortable trip is
planning. If you don't want to deal with all these details,
consider using a travel agent that is experienced in trip
planning for travelers with physical limitations. If you only
need a scooter or wheelchair for distance, you may prefer
to rent one at your destination for a day or the entire trip.
Many theme parks and other attractions that require a lot
of walking also have scooters or wheelchairs available for
rent or loan.
Carol Randall is the co-owner of Access-Able
Travel Source, a free Internet information service for travelers
with disabilities, located at www.access-able.com.
Carol can be reached at:
Editor's note: If you're planning
to rent a scooter at your destination, locate vendors in advance
and make arrangements from home by phone so you can have the
equipment waiting for you at the airport, or at least reserved
for you to pick up. That way you won't have to use your vacation
time to hunt down a rental, which can get very complicated
in a foreign country.