Air Travel

If your loved one uses a wheelchair or scooter to help with mobility, here are some tips to make air travel more comfortable.

When your loved one travels with a wheelchair or scooter, it’s always wise to make arrangements with the airline carrier as far in advance as possible. Let the reservation representative know that your loved one will traveling with this assistive device and that he or she will need an aisle seat and/or assistance in boarding. Remember that individuals needing assistance with mobility are always the last off the plane. This means that you should plan extra time for layovers and destination connections. Also be sure to call and confirm your special reservations 48 hours before your loved one’s departure.

When making seating reservations, keep in mind that some newer planes have arm rests that lift up, which will make transferring to an aisle chair easier. An aisle chair is a narrow chair with wheels that fits down the airplane aisle allowing individuals who are unable to walk to navigate the plane. If your loved one would like an aisle chair, be sure to request one. (This may be especially important if you are planning a long flight, since an aisle chair can help your loved one navigate the aisle to the restroom.) Also ask if any planes with two aisles will be flying to your loved one’s destination. These planes have larger bathrooms, which will allow for easier transfers from an aisle chair to the toilet.

Once you get to the airport, check your loved one’s chair or scooter at the boarding gate and request that it be returned at the arrival gate. Be sure that your loved one’s name and address are clearly marked on the assistive device and that it has a gate delivery tag. To reduce risk of damage, remove seat cushions and other detachable chair parts. Attach instructions for how to detach batteries from powered chairs, as well as for any other disassembly that might be required. It is also suggested that you place dry cell batteries in a powered chair or scooter. For some planes, disassembly may be required to fit the chair into the cargo hold. Asking what kind of plane the care recipient will be flying on may help you to know what to expect.

If your loved one uses a manual chair, you might want to request that it be stowed in the on-board closet instead of in the baggage hold. If your care recipient is scheduled to have a layover, he or she should request the chair during the stop. This will allow your loved one to remain independent, and reduces the risk of loss or damage to the device.

If your loved one needs assistance with transfers while on board the plane, he or she should tell the carrier staff how to help. Although flight personnel have often had training in transferring, it is never a good idea to assume that they have. Additionally, before landing, your loved one should remind staff that he or she will need the chair or scooter once deplaned. An attendant may be able to radio ahead and relay the need for the device, making the retrieval process faster.

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