With more and more wheelchair travelers
taking to the skies you would think that airlines would make
improvements that keep pace with the changing demographics
of their passengers. Sad to say, when it comes to handling
wheelchairs and scooters, not all airlines are taking the
extra efforts to see that these vital elements of our passengers'
lives are making it to their destination unharmed.
We can not recommend a favorite airline
because in any given situation any airline can be a villain
or a saint to the wheelchair traveler. Last year we had two
separate groups of clients flying on the same airline at different
times of the day. Each met connecting flights at the same
connecting airport. The first group praised the airline for
giving them the best assistance they had ever experienced.
Surprisingly, every member of the second group cursed the
same airline for their poor performance stating "they
were the worst." The bottom line of your airlines' performance
depends on the airport staff, the airline staff, and the airline
crew on duty at the time you check into the airport and board
Reconfirm your airline flights with your
airline 24-48 hours before any departure. Flight times and
flight numbers are subject to change. Take painstaking steps
to notify your airlines that you are traveling by wheelchair.
Inform them if you are traveling with a manual wheelchair,
an electric wheelchair, or a scooter. When reconfirming your
flight, ask the airline for "maximum assistance"
at all airport terminals. Reconfirm your request for "maximum
assistance" when you arrive at the airline ticket counter.
At the airport, ask the ticket personnel
to "gate check" your wheelchair and obtain a luggage
claim receipt for your wheelchair. When you "gate check"
your wheelchair it allows you to roll your wheelchair directly
to the fuselage of the plane where you will either walk to
your seat or transfer into an "aisle chair" for
assistance to your seat. Before handing your wheelchair over
to the airline staff, remove your leg supports and portable
seat cushions and carry these into the plane... these do not
travel well when attached to your wheelchair and are likely
to be lost.
We recommend a small, nylon sports bag large
enough to hold the leg supports that is also light enough
to fold into your carry on luggage when not in use. This light
weight sports bag keeps your leg supports in one place and
hopefully prevents them from falling out of the overhead luggage
bin onto someone's head. If your wheelchair folds, collapse
the wheelchair together and use a small strap or a piece of
"duct tape" to hold the sides together. This process
makes for a compact wheelchair that is less likely to be damaged
with airport handling.