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Air Travel Tips for Wheelchair or Scooter Users

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)
(718) 803-EPVA.
http://www.unitedspinal.org

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)
http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/horizons.htm.

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
http://www.travelcarecompanions.com

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 see: http://www.tsa.gov.

When you make your reservation:
by Carol Randall
Reprinted with permission

  • Make your reservation as far in advance as possible.
  • 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 arrival gate.
  • 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 batteries.
  • 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 Officer" (CRO).
  • 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:
(303) 232-2979
Fax: 303-239-8486
Email: carol@access-able.com

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.