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Accessible Air Travel Tips for Passengers with Disability

  • Synopsis: Published: 2008-12-24 (Revised/Updated 2017-01-11) - Accessible air travel tips for passengers with disabilities, and their carers - Disabled World (Disabled World).

Main Document

Quote: "If you are traveling via connecting flights, it is the responsibility of the airlines that you are traveling on, to assist you to get to the connecting flight."

In an increasingly barrier free world, many rules and regulations have been put in place to ensure that the airports and airlines provide an accessible environment to the disabled traveler.

So, with some research and advance planning you can ensure that your air travel is a comfortable experience. But if you are not aware of your rights and responsibilities as a disabled traveler, this is your one stop guide that will help you find out the right information before you book your tickets and tell you what to look for besides accessible restrooms.

At the airport

One of the major concerns of most disabled travelers is the ease with which you can access the terminal from the parking lot (i.e. if you are driving yourself to the airport and plan to leave your car in the parking lot.) Talk to your travel agent and find out the walking distance that you might need to traverse before reaching the point where a shuttle bus can transport you to the terminal. Be extra cautious and make similar inquiries at the destination airport, and ask your travel agent to arrange for your transportation from the airport to your accommodation. This is especially important if you are traveling to another country where you are unfamiliar with the local language and systems.

Check-in counter

Within the airport, look for accessible check-in counters when you check in your luggage. Also note that most airlines will ask you to check in your wheelchair at this point. Make sure that your travel agent has informed the airport in advance, and made arrangements for you to transfer to a person mover or an electric cart tat will take you to the departure gate and from there onto the aircraft. If you are boarding at a large or international airport, you might be faced with the prospect of moving between terminals located at different levels. Usually, there will be elevators to help you, but if required seek personalized assistance, which most airports offer.

Ready to board

Most terminals are now equipped with jet ways and mobile lounges for easy access to the aircraft. However, smaller airports or smaller airplanes might not have such facilities, in which case, there should be mechanical lifts or level boarding ramps to help you get on and off the aircraft. Most airlines require that disabled travelers board first, and deplane last. You will find that this works well for you because an aircraft with empty aisles will make it easy for you negotiate your way to your seat!

Note: If you are traveling via connecting flights, it is the responsibility of the airlines that you are traveling on, to assist you to get to the connecting flight.

When you deplane

When you deplane, look for accessible retrieval areas where you can reclaim your baggage, along with your wheelchair. If you are unable to transfer yourself to the wheelchair, the airport usually provides trained staff that can assist you. Just make sure that you tell them the lifting procedure that you are most comfortable with. You could also make the transfer easier for the both of you by telling them which is your best transferring side. And finally, ensure that,

  • The chair that you being transferred to and the chair you in, are both locked and stabilized.
  • Your torso and feet are securely strapped so that there are no chances of you slipping.

Remember that during your air travel, you might be required to be transferred up to six times, undoubtedly a strenuous situation, but you can make it relatively stress free if you are prepared for it, and are aware of what information you should share with the personnel who will help you.

On board

Pre-boarding the flight will help you to settle down before other travelers walk in. You could also use this time to request the cabin crew for an aisle seat, if you already haven't done so at the check-in counter. This will prove of immense help to you when transferring to a chair since the armrest on this seat is movable and also, this way, you are least likely to disturb your fellow travelers. If you are traveling with a companion, this is the time to ensure that they are occupying an adjacent seat. Remember airlines policies change from airline to airline regarding whether they can help in lifting you out of your chairs during the duration of the flight. So if you cannot manage the transfers on your own, it is best to travel with a companion or check with your travel agent before booking on the airlines policy.

If you are wondering how you will maneuverer yourself to the lavatory, the airlines will be providing you with an on board wheelchair that you can use to move to the lavatories. You will also be provided with space in the cabin closet to store it.

Some useful tips

  • Here are some useful tips to ensure that you have a smooth air travel:
  • Contact the airline ahead of your journey to know about their procedures for disabled travelers.
  • If you are traveling long distance and are not sure if you will be able to sustain the long hours, simply break up the flight into segments.
  • Do not expect to be exempted from the security screenings at airports on account of your disability. Usually, security personnel will also check your assistive equipment to ensure that there are no concealed weapons.
  • Anticipate and plan for situations where your wheelchair is or damaged.

Related Information:

  1. Major Airline Travel Tips for Travelers with Disabilities - Since each airline is different we have listed differing policies where travelers with disabilities are concerned - Jessica Padykula
  2. New Rule Requires US Airlines to Report Wheelchair and Scooter Transport and Damage - U.S. Department of Transport final rule may relieve some air travel challenges for passengers with disabilities - Paralyzed Veterans of America
  3. Finding Last Minute Airfares and Discount Flight Deals - Cheap airline tickets with discount airfare deals and current flight prices to destinations worldwide from multiple travel websites - Disabled World


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