Having an electric wheelchair can give you so much more mobility and the freedom to travel so you can enjoy the world like everyone else.
While traveling locally may be easy to accommodate since you can travel in a van that’s easy to get in and out of, if you want to travel internationally or to a place that isn’t within a reasonable driving distance then you will need to book a flight and figure out how to bring your wheelchair to the best places with you.
Planning to take a religious pilgrimage like the Hajj? No worries! Know that you can also comfortably go to Hajj in your wheelchair. Traveling with an electric wheelchair can be scary because you’re relying on the staff working at the airport to make sure your wheelchair can be accommodated and that you’ll be able to use it to get on and off the plane.
Just like anyone else traveling, before you leave your house you’ll want to make sure you plan appropriately so that your wheelchair can make it safely with you and you’ll be able to enjoy the sights when you get to your destination.
Here’s what you’ll need to think about and plan for while traveling with an electric wheelchair.
Make Sure the Wheelchair Will Fit In the Cargo Hold
Depending on where you’re traveling to, the size of the plan may not accommodate your wheelchair going through the cargo door. This can result in your chair being turned on its side or possibly damaged during the process of loading it on and off.
The smaller the plane, the smaller the cargo hold door will be. This might mean that you will need to make sure the chair will have to be collapsed and/or stored on its side for the entirety of the trip.
When you’re planning your trip, see if you can get ahold of the information about the plane you’re going to be flying on and whether you’ll need to plan for your chair being collapsed or stored differently than you’d normally expect.
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Pick a Major Airport
There can be benefits to flying through smaller airports, but if you need special accommodations or help with your wheelchair then you will want to make sure you fly through major airports.
The bigger airports will have more amenities and resources to make sure your travel experience is smooth. On top of that, the smaller airports may not be able to accommodate larger airplanes which means the cargo hold of the airplane may not be big enough to bring your wheelchair on board.
Additionally, the smaller airports may require passengers to go up and down the stairs to board planes, which someone with mobility issues may not be able to do. Picking a major airport means that you’ll have the jetway boarding to make it that much easier to get onto the plane.
Travel With a Friend
traveling alone can be really exciting – and very fun – but if you have mobility issues you may feel more comfortable traveling with a friend. If you have a friend who can help with getting you to the bathroom or accessing food while traveling it can make you feel much more comfortable.
Plus, traveling with a friend allows you to bond over the shared experience of what you’ll see while you’re traveling.
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Make a Plan for Collapsing the Chair
In an ideal world, your wheelchair would just be able to drive right onto the plane without any intervention or modification. However, we know that plans can change and the plane you thought you were flying on isn’t actually the one you end up going on.
If that happens, it’s important to have a backup plan to make sure you have a way to get your wheelchair on that plane. This wheelchair is your key to being able to get around once you get to your destination, so getting it on that plane is imperative. If you may need to fold or collapse your chair for transport on the plane, you’ll need to know how to do it.
Most airlines will have staff with experience in doing this, as an electric wheelchair isn’t uncommon, but if you want to make sure it’s done right and the way you want then it’s important to bring the tools you’ll need and be prepared to do it yourself.
Coverage for Damage to the Wheelchair
While the airline won’t try to damage your wheelchair on purpose, but accidents do happen during a flight and there could be damage done to your wheelchair.
Hopefully, the damage isn’t severe, and it doesn’t stop you from enjoying your vacation, but it will need to be fixed at some point. The airline does have a responsibility for replacing damaged assistive devices, however, it can take time to get the replacement and if you’re going on vacation there may not be an alternative for you away from home.
The majority of accidents that happen to wheelchairs are minor dents and scratches. It’s very, very rare that damage happens where the wheelchair is rendered completely inoperable.
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Talk to Your Travel Agent
If you aren’t booking your own flights – and that’s totally ok – let your travel agent know that you are using an electric wheelchair and you will require special accommodation for boarding the plane and getting off the plane.
Your travel agent will be able to check off that you’re using a wheelchair so the airline gets the information ahead of time and will know to expect it.
Talk to the Airline
You may not want to point out to anyone that you have special needs and are traveling, but communicating with your airline will be key in helping this go much more smoothly.
In the eyes of the airline, the wheelchair is considered baggage so the direction on how to handle it will have to come from you. They will be expecting you to tell them the size and weight (approximately) of the chair so they can make the appropriate accommodations. They will need to know the weight of the chair so they can add it into the cargo hold as each flight does have weight limitations they have to follow.
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If you need your wheelchair for complete mobility you will need to make sure that the airline has a wheelchair-accessible bathroom.
For those wheelchair users who use it to aid their mobility, they may be able to walk short distances to the bathroom as needed while traveling. However, if you are unable to walk at all you will need to make alternate arrangements to make sure you are comfortable for your trip.
Are you flying straight to your destination, or do you have layovers at another airport? If you have a layover where you need to switch airplanes, you will need to plan for accommodations to get off the plane, get to your next gate, and board the next plane. We have a separate article on the best accessible airlines for wheelchair users.
You will need to make sure that your layover gives you enough time to get off the plane and to your next one, especially knowing your mobility might be different without your electric wheelchair.
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Transport at Your Destination
There may be some delay between when you get off the plane and when the airline will get your wheelchair to you, so you’ll need to plan for some alternate transportation.
You will also need to consider how you will get from where you get off the plane to where you will pick up your wheelchair, or will the airline staff meet you near the gate to give you the chair?
There could be a delay in getting the chair to you, and you may wish to go to your hotel room after you get off the plane. If that is what you want to do, most airlines can accommodate this ask you will just need to let them know ahead of time and make the right arrangements to get your wheelchair when it comes out of the cargo hole.
What we do know about traveling with a wheelchair is that airlines are very sensitive to their traveler’s needs, and they are usually very helpful with accommodating those who have mobility issues.
They are also very understanding that any damage to the wheelchair can really impact your vacation, and even your ability to physically move from one place to another.
With this in mind, the accidents that do happen to wheelchairs while in flight are usually very minor. Even though no one wants a scratch on their $20,000+ wheelchair as long as it’s still working the small amount of damage can be repaired easily when you get home.
They know that people with special needs will still be traveling so they want to make sure that their experience is a great one and that they don’t feel like the airline is leaving them in the dark to figure out how to navigate the process on their own.
With the appropriate planning, you’ll be seeing the world in no time and you’ll be able to enjoy everything it has to offer just like everyone else. If you have questions about traveling with a wheelchair, contact a travel agent to ask before you book flights and make plans to travel.