In most cases, you can use your own wheelchair all the way into the airport, through security, and to the boarding area. At that point, you will typically be transferred to a special wheelchair that can fit in the plane aisle while your own chair is safely stored in the airplane cabin during the flight.
Airlines also typically want to pre-board passengers when they use a wheelchair. Once you arrive at the airport, your own chair is quickly available for your use.
If you plan to fly and use a wheelchair, there are important issues to keep in mind.
Check With Airline Beforehand
Let the airline know you use a chair and what flight you will be taking. This allows them to prepare for your arrival and ensure they have the right personnel and equipment to meet your needs. Also, it gives you a chance to become familiar with the rules on disabled travel for your particular airline.
Airlines use a special service request code in their records to mark passengers who need assistance. The codes for wheelchair use include WCHR (can walk for short distances and on stairs), WCHS (can walk short distances, but not on stairs), WCHC (cannot walk at all and will need aisle wheelchair on board plane), WCOB (aisle wheelchair requested for during flight).
Also, familiarize yourself with the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986, so you will know your rights under the law for flying with a wheelchair in the United States.
Prepare Your Wheelchair
Let the airline know what type of chair you will be storing – hand-propelled or electric. If electric, let them know what type of battery you use. Those with wet acid batteries will need to arrive earlier than usual, as the battery will need to be removed and placed in a special container during the flight.
Also, it’s wise to remove any detachable parts from your wheelchair to prevent damage. Label your chair with your name, address, and destination airport, just as you would with luggage.
It’s also good to make sure you have insurance to cover any damage to the chair or any personal injury during the flight.
It’s good to arrive at the airport about three hours before your flight to ensure you have plenty of time to make it through the airport, security and to the gate. Time also is needed to transfer you to the aisle chair and store your wheelchair.
Complaints and Problems
Should problems arise during the flight with either you or your chair or if you have issues with how you are being treated, ask to speak to the Complaints Resolution Officer. There should be one on each flight. This is where having a good understanding of your rights by law can also prove helpful. The officer is there to mitigate any problems and make sure your needs are met.
These are some of the key issues to keep in mind. While you can certainly fly with your wheelchair, it goes best when you take the time to prepare.