If you are a wheelchair user who loves to travel, you’ve probably run into your fair share of problems. Even with meticulous planning, sometimes things don’t go quite as expected and you need to change or revise your strategy every time you travel. Still, research and planning can go a long way, and this is especially true with air travel. Here is the top 5 tips for flying as a wheelchair user. Early is a word you’re going to hear a lot in this article and others like it, but that just because it’s a necessity! You need to be over prepared because unfortunately you’re going to run into people and systems that are under prepared for travelers with unique needs.
Book Tickets Early
When flying as a wheelchair user it’s important to keep in mind that the earlier you book, the more options you will have for seat selection. For this very reason, we recommend booking your tickets as early as possible. Most airlines contain seats that have flip up or fold down armrests, but these tend to sell out quickly. If you have the budget, you may want to pay for a premium seat.
Inform Your Needs in Advance
After you make your reservation, it’s a good idea to call up your airline’s customer service number to let them know of your needs and any special requests in advance. Let them know you are travelling by wheelchair and specify whether your wheelchair is manual or electric. Find out if they offer the option to pre-board. Many airlines offer this service and it never hurts to ask if it’s an option. When you arrive at the airport, make sure to reconfirm your requests with an agent at the ticket counter.
Get to the Airport Early
Make sure you arrive at the airport early. This will allow you plenty of time to confirm your requests with the airline and to get your wheelchair through security. Your wheelchair is likely to be loaded onto the plane a half hour before boarding begins, so arriving early allows you plenty of time to visit the restroom and buy any last minute snacks or reading materials.
Some airports have designated security lines for passengers with mobility challenges, and this is something you might want to check on in advance. When you arrive for the security screening, speak to an agent and let them know you are unable to walk through the metal detector and they will wave a metal detector wand over you and will do a pat-down.
Prepare Your Chair For Travel
We all prep ourselves for the flight with magazines for the ride or chewing gum for the pressure change but our chairs need to be travel ready too! So we highly recommend that on top of putting an airline travel tag on it, that you label your chair with your information. Then put another tag, sticker, or piece of tape on that area. If the tag is easily removable, you could also add your destination here as well. Next we suggest removing your chair’s side guards. If you have them, you are going to want to remove them and take them with you on the plane. Your in the cargo hold your side guards get lost or damaged. This also goes for any other pieces of your chair that could get caught on things or detached.
Traveling in a wheelchair is certainly not impossible, and it can be enjoyable. The more you do it, the better you can refine your plan for making the transitions as smooth as possible. These tips are only a starting point. As you travel, make a list of your own observations and tips to remember for the next time. Each situation and location are unique.