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BG World Travel

  • Writer's pictureWilliam Petrie-Hurn

Flying with a Wheelchair tips

Updated: May 7

Flying as a wheelchair user is always challenging, but here I will help you travel beyond the expected in 2024. As soon as you arrive at the airport, you can experience what seems like a daunting task to begin your holiday but it need not be.

Woman In wheelchair at airport
Lady in Wheelchair at Airport

There is assistance from the moment you arrive at the airport including assistance with the check-in process and being escorted through security, ensuring you arrive at your gate on time and begin your travels stress-free. What's more, to help flying with a wheelchair be as easy as possible at all stages, here are some of our top tips - ranging from some of the customer named favourite airlines to which plane seat is best for you... 

Pick the Right Airline

All airlines vary in what they offer wheelchair users, so a little bit of research helps you discover which one’s best for your needs if you have the choice when booking your holiday. Some of the best recommended airlines by customers are:

  • British Airways

  • easyJet

  • Ryanair

  • Delta Airlines

  • Qantas Airways

  • Emirates

  • American Airlines

  • Virgin Atlantic

  • United Airlines

  • Aer Lingus

  • Air Canada

  • JetBlue

  • Qatar Airlines

  • Lufthansa

  • Air France

  • Delta Airlines

Contact the Airline Ahead of Travel    

It’s important to reach out to both the airline and the airport before you travel. This way, you can let them know exactly what you need, so the ground and flight crew can prepare. As soon as you’ve booked, it’s worth calling the airline directly and explaining that you’ll be bringing your wheelchair. Give them as much detail as possible – we're talking your chair’s height, weight, length and width. It’s also a good idea to tell them about any other needs you might have, like if you’ll need assistance with transferring into your seat on the plane, so they can get their passenger transfer chair available. 

Airlines officially recommend contacting them at least 48 hours in advance of your departure date. But we suggest doing this once you’ve booked and perhaps reminding them again two weeks ahead of your travel date, just to give them plenty of time and ensure if there are any changes possibly with the aircraft.   

Select a Suitable Seat  

The first three or four rows are reserved for passengers with disability and mobility restrictions, which makes access a lot easier. And remember that you won’t be able to sit near an emergency exit, so it’s best to avoid attempting to book these seats. For some airlines, there's no charge for reserving your seat if you have a specific seating requirement because of your disability. When you contact the airline, they will normally give you this option first depending on the availability.

Woman in wheelchair at check in
Lady in wheelchair

Arrive Early at the Airport

Complimentary meet and greet service is available with most holiday bookings. As soon as you arrive, you can be greeted curb-side by the airport or airline staff, who can help with the check-in process, security, making sure you arrive at your gate on time, and just generally helping your holiday begin as seamlessly as possible. It is also worth knowing that most UK and US airports now offer special assistance parking and transport connections for passengers with reduced mobility.

With that being said, it’s still wise to arrive early at the airport. A wheelchair might take a little more time to get through security, and you might want to speak to the accessibility team again about any equipment you’ve requested to help with boarding.

Take Your Seat Cushion with You

Before your wheelchair is stored for the flight, take your cushion off the seat. You can use this to sit on during the flight, making those uncomfortable plane seats a little more bearable. What’s more, it means you don’t have to worry about your cushion getting lost in transit.

Ensure Your Chair Is Well-Labelled  

It’s unlikely your wheelchair will get lost or separated from its labels. But it’s never a bad idea to have a backup plan. Add an extra label, sticker, or bit of tape to a secure place with your name, phone number and destination or flight number on it. It's best not to use a label that tie on as this can be seperated from your chair or part of your chair during transfer and transportation.

If your chair has side guards, you’ll need to remove these and take them on the plane with you. This is because they can easily get lost or damaged in the cargo area. The same goes for any other parts of the chair that might get caught or can easily detach. There are super-handy wheelchair travel storage bags out there designed for flying, in which you can place your manual wheelchair to help protect it. And the plane’s closet is an ideal place to hang your spare parts – just ask the flight attendants, who should be happy to help. 

If you’ve got a powered wheelchair, make sure to remove critical parts like the joystick control unit, and foot and armrests. It’s also helpful to think about adding instruction labels on how to engage and disengage the battery, or the best places to lift it – this should help avoid people lifting from easily breakable parts.

And remember make sure to update your destination on tags/labels/stickers etc for your return flight, so you and your chair don’t end up in different time zones!

Bring a Transferring Sling  

If you can’t transfer yourself, it’s worth bringing your own transferring sling to help get you from your wheelchair to your seat on the plane. Lots of airports and airlines still don’t provide this kind of equipment. But, even if they do, it does mean a lot of manoeuvring. So bringing your own means the airport staff don’t have to insert the equipment under you.

Think About Toilet Management  

Unfortunately, most aircraft toilets still aren’t fully accessible, which excludes wheelchair users from using them. But there are ways around having to manage a toilet trip on a flight. There are mini wee bottles for men and women – like the Uribag, which is small, discreet and simple to use.  

Pack a Bag for Quick Fix-Ups  

Sometimes accidents are unavoidable, so be prepared with a quick-fix bag of tricks. Zip ties and duct tape don’t take up a lot of room, but they’ll save you a lot of stress if your wheelchair gets damaged during the flight. It means you can quickly repair your chair until you can get it properly fixed while still safely enjoying your holiday. And remember you cannot take small hand tools with you to do those repairs.

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