Travel Tips for Flying with a Motorized Wheelchair
Airlines have become increasingly savvy to the needs of motorized wheelchair users, but there are still plenty of problems that can pop up during travel. For example, many airline employees continue to be confused by FAA regulations on motorized wheelchairs. Others are familiar with all the rules, but simply don’t understand the best ways to help mobility impaired passengers reach their destinations. The most effective way to guard yourself against difficulties is to communicate with your airline as much as possible. From booking your ticket to claiming your baggage, keeping in touch with airline staff is the best way to ensure you and your motorized wheelchair arrive at your destination without trouble.
Scheduling Your Flight and Clarifying Policies
Once you know what day you want to fly, call your airline before you actually book anything. When you speak to a representative, let them know that you’re a reduced mobility passenger and that you’ll be flying with a motorized wheelchair. The representative should be able to tell you if any of the planes going to your destination have wider aisles than others, or any other features that may make getting around easier. She’ll also be able to arrange for a special onboard wheelchair, called an aisle chair, to be present on your flight. If you have any questions about airline policy regarding motorized wheelchairs, make it a point to ask now. After you’ve clarified any uncertainties, write down the name of the person you’ve been speaking to in case there’s any confusion later on.
Checking-In and Boarding
Arrive at the airport at least two hours before a domestic flight, and four hours before international travel. While this may sound like a lot of time, it’s actually the minimum amount you will need to check-in and deal with any unexpected problems. When you do check-in, ask if it will be possible for you to “gate check” your wheelchair. This essentially means that you’ll be allowed to drive your motorized wheelchair to the gate, after which time it will be handed over for storage. Most airlines allow this practice, and you should be cleared to drive your electric wheelchair to the gate with little difficulty.
When it’s time to board, take a moment to secure your motorized wheelchair before taking your seat. To discourage baggage handlers from driving your electric wheelchair, detach your battery and put the joystick in neutral. This will both make your motorized wheelchair easier to push and make ‘joy-riding’ tougher to accomplish. Also remove any portable cushions or equipment that could be damaged during transit. The flight attendants should be able to store these in an overhead compartment without a problem.
Enjoying Your Flight and Disembarking
While you’re being helped to your seat, go ahead and connect with the airline staff. Find out who has been designated to help you off the plane, and make sure the attendants all know that you may need help moving about the cabin. If you have any trouble during the flight, let the chief flight attendant know immediately so that they may attend to your needs.
Lastly, after you’ve disembarked and have been reunited with your motorized wheelchair, briefly check it for damage before you go. If anything has been harmed, you’ll want to let staff know before you leave the premises. And don’t forget, if you ever have any problems, you’re fully within your rights to ask to speak to airline managers and high level personnel. Should they prove unresponsive, written letters to company officials are another highly effective way to communicate. But hopefully, with careful planning and a little luck, you’ll never need to worry about damage or complaints!