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Can You Take a Power Wheelchair on a Plane?

A lot of people with disabilities keep asking if they can travel by air with their power wheelchairs. The answer is yes, you can take a power wheelchair on a plane. Nevertheless, there are some crucial things to take into consideration, including the type and size of a power wheelchair. There isn’t enough space onboard (even on larger airplanes) for a transport chair or a single standard wheelchair. Rigid-frame wheelchairs and power chairs will need to be gate checked. Power wheelchairs which are powered by sealed batteries – gel or lead-acid, which at most – will not have any issues at all.

Power wheelchairs are not permitted in the passenger’s cabin of an airplane. In other words, they are often too wide and heavy to be used in the passenger cabin due to the tight aisles. When someone who uses a wheelchair gets to the gate of an airport, they will be given an aisle manual chair for easier movement while on the plane. The aisle wheelchair will be your medium of movement onto the airplane from the airport gate to your designated seat, and also for use on the plane when going to the restroom. 

Your power wheelchair will be collected and put in the cargo area of the plane. Most states prohibit airline companies from charging an extra fee for stowing a passenger’s motorized wheelchair as they usually do for inspected luggage. It will be very helpful to the airline if they are provided with a copy of your power wheelchair owner’s manual, just in case, it needs to be disassembled. This will help in ensuring good care of your mobility device and will also help in speeding up the entire loading and unloading procedure. If you own a power wheelchair, then, feel free to take your chair with you whenever you book a flight. 

Passengers who have related disabilities can board the plane before other able-bodied passengers, including those passengers who have purchased first-class boarding. An airline attendant is obligated to help you if requested. This is often the case as most persons who use power chairs find it hard to push themselves into a manual wheelchair.

Once the airplane has landed safely and is at the airport gate, you and other people with related disabilities will be permitted to leave before other passengers or wait for other passengers to leave (whichever suits you best). Your power chair will be given back to you as close to the airplane’s door as possible, whether it is at the gate or the jet bridge. It will be well assembled and in the exact state as it was when you brought it to the airport before the flight.

Air Traveling With A Power Wheelchair

If you plan on traveling with a power chair, ensure that you have the model of your wheelchair’s battery ready when booking your flight with the airline. Book direct flights if you can. This will help you avoid the stress of boarding and exiting twice.

Also, ensure that you consider means in which you will be transferred into your seat. Pack a transfer board or transfer straps with you. Take a clear photo of your power chair in case any problem arises as a result of damages incurred while transporting.

Dealing With Batteries

For domestic air travels, non-spillable power chair batteries are permitted on board of an airplane. All power wheelchair products – including mobility scooters and power wheelchairs use this type of battery. These batteries come in two different types:

Sealed Lead Acid (Gel and AGM): Most power chairs are accompanied by this type of battery. During transportation, the battery may stay installed if it is properly attached to your mobility chair. The battery cabinet provides the battery with protection from external damages, and the terminals are also guarded against short circuits. The battery cables could stay connected only if the chair is protected from unexpected activation. 

Lithium-Ion: The lithium-ion batteries are rarely used on power wheelchairs. Such batteries must be uninstalled from the wheelchair and put in carry-on baggage only. The passenger must disclose the location of his/her wheelchair’s battery to the plane’s crew. 

International travel, however, will need further research depending on the airline you choose to travel on and the country you plan on traveling to. 

What To Expect For Your Flight

The day to your flight, contact the airports and your airline to confirm your accessibilities options, your reservation, and any other problems you may have. Check-in can be done online, through software, or even at the airport. Most airlines advice arriving at the airport at least one or two hours before the flight takes off, but those who are wheelchair-bound are advised to give themselves more time before their flight takes off; this will help them to clear security, to inspect their wheelchair, and other equipment, and to find their way around the airport.

At security, most airports will need you to inspect your scooter or power wheelchair before getting to the clearing security checkpoints. If this is the case, you will be provided with a terminal wheelchair – and an attendant as well – to guide you through the airport. Make sure your personal belongings are removed from your equipment, including backpacks and bags. Security will help you through the entire process, so don’t hesitate to ask for help or ask questions. 

When you get to your gate, talk to the airline staff at the terminal pre-boarding. Once pre-boarding starts and you find your way to the plane, you will have to be moved to an aisle-sized wheelchair. Passenger planes have an aisle width of fifteen inches (minimum). Before leaving your private wheelchair, protect or completely remove any sensitive electronics, such as the control stick for a power chair, and remove all modifications likely to be broken during transportation, such as a headrest. If you own a power chair, get it engaged in free-wheel mode. Finally, make sure you take your cushion along with you and use it on-board during your flight.

In-Flight Toileting Options

During flights, you may have limited bathroom options. Few airlines may be willing to take you to the bathroom through an aisle wheelchair. This is why it is very important to book an aisle seat if you can. Some people that are wheelchair-bound have used adult incontinence products or catheters to avoid the troubles of utilizing the airplane restroom during the flight.

For shorter plane travels, you may be able to completely avoid needing this facility, especially if you had already used a handicap-accessible restroom at the airport before entering the plane, and have lowered your fluid consumption until you land. There could be delays when traveling, dehydration can create other problems. So, be careful if you plan on completely skipping the fluids. Also, ask your airline about flight accessibility options before booking a flight. 

Arrival At Your Destination

As soon as you get to your destination, you will be needed to stay back until all the passengers have left the plane. With the help of the airline hostesses, you will get escorted off the airplane in an airport wheelchair. Generally, you can relax as your wheelchair will be returned to you when claiming your baggage.

Reminders And Additional Tips

If you have to choose between connecting flights and a direct flight, consider going for a direct flight. Even if it may cost a bit more, it may be worth dodging the stress of exiting and boarding an airplane twice. Also, it will help avoid the wear that comes with transferring your power wheelchair from one plane to another.

Always contact your airline before booking a flight to learn about their in-flight accessibility options and how they can accommodate your individual needs for boarding and exiting the plane as well as during the flight.

Reach out to the airports (both arriving and departing) and ask questions about security procedures for mobility devices and other possible accessibility issues.

Taking A Power Wheelchair With You

If you have decided to take a power wheelchair (whether it is yours or one you are renting) on an airplane with you, consider getting it checked at the ticket counter and make use of the airline’s wheelchair to get yourself to the gate. You can equally avoid a lot of hassles by allowing the airport attendant to deal with the stress of getting your power wheelchair on the plane. If you prefer using your power wheelchair until you get to the gate and get it checked there, then, keep reading to learn more. 

Ask the airline before your flight about the dimensions of the plane’s cargo compartment door. If your power chair can fit properly through that door, then it probably will not need to be disassembled. But if the chair is too big for that door, then it will surely need to be disassembled. Ensure that you tell the ticketing staff at check-in (before getting to the security checkpoint) so she or he can ensure that your wheelchair is properly handled.

The airline agent may want to take out the batteries from your power chair or may try disconnecting it as this is part of safety precaution. To lower the possibility of batteries removal, ensure that you know exactly how to disconnect and reconnect your wheelchair batteries (this can be practiced at home even before your trip). Always make sure you attach a copy of your wheelchair’s batteries disassembly/assembly information and instructions on the body of your wheelchair.

If you plan on using your power wheelchair to move from one gate to another at connecting airports, then bare in mind that the duration between connecting flights may not be enough for the airline agent to retrieve – and, if need be, assemble – your wheelchair. For this particular reason, during layovers, passengers who are wheelchair bound are advised to use the airport wheelchair to move from one gate to another. 

Also, bear in mind that airlines swap airplanes all the time, which implies that the aircraft assigned to your travel during booking may not be the same plane that gets used. Thus, contact the airline a day or two before your flight date to verify if it has your reservation ready (for you and your power wheelchair), and to confirm the size of the cargo compartment doors. Until your flight takes off, be ready for last-minute changes—even those that might involve the disassembling of your wheelchair.

Clearing Airport Security With A Power Wheelchair

Although power wheelchairs can go through airport security with passengers and other carry-on items, they usually get extra close inspections. So ensure that you arrive at the airport earlier than usual to provide yourself with the right amount of time you need to go through the entire process without being rushed (and without going through the risk of being held back at the airport for so long that you miss your flight).

Do not worry if you find it hard to go through the scanners and metal detectors. You can get screened even while sitting in your wheelchair. This process often includes screening for signs of explosives and visual inspection. It also has to do with physical supervision in the form of a pat-down, which is crucial since passengers who are wheelchair bound cannot walk through electronic screening devices. You can ask for a private pat-down if you want. You will also be required to place all your carry-on items and detachable wheelchair items such as baskets, assembly tools, and saddlebags on the X-ray device belt.

Conclusion

Are power wheelchairs permitted on planes? In three words: Yes, they are. However, there are certain stipulations. It can be very challenging to fly with a power wheelchair if you haven’t done it before, but a lot of people do it every day. Do not hold yourself back from visiting your loved ones or enjoying a vacation. 

Wherever you wish to visit with your power wheelchair, a little research, some planning in advance and a reasonable amount of patience will go a very long way toward ensuring that your trip is successful!

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