nuts and bolts of flying with a wheelchair

  • nuts and bolts of flying with a wheelchair

    Posted by dgrengineer on July 24, 2018 at 3:18 am

    I have never flown as a person in a wheelchair/power chair.

    What is the procedure for getting from the front door of the airport to the gate and to the seat?

    Can this be done alone or do I need a valet?

    I can slide out of my power chair but I cannot lift myself over the arm of a seat.  Does the airline remove a seat and strap my chair to the floor?  Do four stout people lift me up and over?

    How does this work?


    azaleeboy replied 5 years, 6 months ago 5 Members · 6 Replies
  • 6 Replies
  • Josh Grisdale

    July 24, 2018 at 10:30 am


    I use a power wheelchair and fly fairly frequently.

    The general flow:

    1. Book your ticket and tell the airline you need assistance.  They will likely call you or send you a survey asking about your needs.
    2. Arrive at the airport a bit earlier than normal as it can take more time.
    3. You often check-in at a special assistance counter.  They will again ask about your requirements and possibly ask to see the batteries in your wheelchair.
      A number of years ago they would maybe make you transfer to an airport wheelchair at check-in but lately you can take your chair right to the gate – I recommend insisting on this as sitting in an airport wheelchair can be uncomfortable!
    4. Most airlines will assign someone to escort you through security if you request it.
    5. You need to arrive at the boarding gate about 15-20 min earlier than everyone else.
    6. At the gate you change over to a special wheelchair that can go down the airplane aisles and ground staff will take your regular wheelchair to be loaded into the airplane.
    7. Staff will take you to your seat.  Depending on the airline/country they may help you transfer (some have policies that prevent them from performing “care” like transferring).
    8. On arrival, you will be last off.  They will again bring you an aisle wheelchair.
    9. You will get your wheelchair back at the luggage collection area.

    Note that airlines will not help with any personal care (and may not help with transferring), so you may need to travel with a companion.

    If you have any more specific questions, feel free to ask!


  • dgrengineer

    July 25, 2018 at 2:16 am


    Thanks for the walk through.  Although I love to travel, most of my travels have been for business not pleasure.  I’m a bit skeptical about asking for a valet or carer to travel with me on the company dime.  Since the training they want me in on is in Italy, my wife has strongly suggested that I will need someone her age to be that valet.

    I am a little concerned about getting from the wheelchair into the airline seat.  Do the arm rests of larger planes pivot up?  I think I could slide from one seat to another.  Even if I’m traveling with my wife, I don’t think she could lift me over the arm rest.

    Thanks again!

  • Josh Grisdale

    July 25, 2018 at 8:20 am

    Sorry, forgot to answer that!

    From my experience, the seats at the front of each section (bulkhead, the ones with extra foot room) do not have an armrest that can move since the TV and food tray are folded up into the armrest.

    Other seats have the TV and tray on the back of the seat in front of them, so the armrest can be lifted up.

    Also, if the plane has three columns of seats the ones in the middle column are best since you don’t block anyone.  I found that sitting on the outside columns is awkward since I must be in the aisle seat and if anyone wants to use the toilet, they must climb over me since I cannot move. In the middle, they can always exit from the other side.


  • ncpower00

    December 2, 2018 at 1:10 am

    Hello – are there travel bags or luggage bags that you recommend can store a manual wheelchair when it’s checked at the gate? We don’t want it to get damaged so we are hoping to buy or adapt a bag to protect it. Thank you!

  • tabifolk

    December 2, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Excellent question!  You may want to post this as a new question in a separate post so it sticks out more 🙂

    (Just go to the Flying forum and choose New Topic)

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