Traveling Through an Airport with a Wheelchair: Pro Tips! 

Traveling through an airport for the first time can be an extremely daunting experience – but it’s even more nervewracking when doing so as a wheelchair user. Many people reading this may be newly disabled, and whilst they may be experienced when it comes to flying as an able-bodied individual, the prospect of traveling with a wheelchair may feel completely alien.

To help prepare you for the challenges faced when traveling through an airport with a wheelchair, I thought it might be helpful to put together this blog post with some general tips and advice. If you’re a seasoned pro, feel free to add your input in the comments and together we can spark a broader discussion.

The first thing to remember when navigating through an airport is that assistance is readily available. It’s best to contact the airport ahead of your trip and let them know when you will be checking in. I’ve often arrived at an airport a couple of hours before flying and was able to schedule assistance on the spot, but for your peace of mind, it might be better to have it all planned out ahead of arrival. Whether you’re traveling alone or with family, having this assistance can be a huge help and can make the whole process of taking a flight all the more smooth.

To that end, arriving at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight helps to provide ample time to make your way through the airport comfortably – without the need to rush. Head to your airline’s check-in desk in the departure hall, submit your ID, boarding pass, and luggage, confirming your use of a wheelchair as you go.

Pro tip: Manual wheelchairs receive a luggage tag at check-in and your chair can be used until the plane’s entrance. Once you transfer into the aisle chair, your manual chair will be taken down into the plane’s luggage hold.

When it comes time to pass through customs and security, look out for designated lanes that are designed to help expedite the process and create a hassle-free environment for security checks. Be mindful to remove wheelchair accessories too for an even quicker turnaround.

One thing that I like to do when I arrive at my gate is just to show my face to the gate crew and let them know that I am around. I also like to try and go to the toilet as close to boarding as possible, as this can at least reduce the need to go when on the plane. This is extra important on short-haul flights, as sometimes there’s not an aisle chair or larger bathroom on board smaller planes.

After letting the gate crew know that you’re there, you’ll also enjoy priority boarding (usually). You’ll either use an air tunnel to get to the plane entrance, or staff will take you to the door via a van that has a lift attached to the back of it. This lift rises to be level with the plane’s door and is secured beside the plane for safety.

Pro tip: Bring your chair cushion with you onto the plane for additional comfort. This also helps to avoid losing the cushion if it was to fall from your chair whilst being placed within the luggage hold.

Take photos of your wheelchair before you travel, and if possible, have these photographs dated somehow. This will be invaluable if there are any issues or damages to your wheelchair and you find yourself needing to make a claim. Furthermore, don’t forget to pack any repair kits that you might need once you get to your destination.

As well as your passport, boarding pass, and any other information that you might need consider taking with you any medical certificates that you might have, copies of your medication, and any possible doctor’s notes that you might have. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but depending on your needs, it may be helpful to have.

During long-haul flights, consider limiting food and drink intake to reduce restroom visits. Communicate your needs to the staff, and take necessary precautions.

Finally, upon landing, staff assistance ensures a smooth exit, with your wheelchair waiting in the arrival hall or at the exit of the plane. For any inquiries or feedback, feel free to reach out. Travel confidently, and enjoy your journey!

Published in Travel


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