There are about 650 million people who live with a disability around the world. That is about 10% of the global population. Every year, two million more Americans start using wheelchairs. Many people who use wheelchairs and wheelchair hand rims lead active lifestyles and do not let their disability keep them from doing the things they love to do. Here are some tips to help you travel via plane.
- Get to the airport early. When you are planning your flights, no matter whether you have a disability or not, booking your flights ahead of time is always a good idea. Getting to the airport with enough time to get through the TSA lines is also a good idea. It always takes longer than anyone thinks it should take to get through the airport.
- Advocate for yourself. When you book your flights you should ask about what kinds of accommodations they have at the airport. If you cannot get the information you need because you are booking your flights with an online booking site, call the airlines and see what accessibility programs are offered at the airports you will be using. You may have to tell the ticket agent everything so be ready for that.
- Go in for a check up on your wheelchair. You should have the wheelchair hand rims, wheelchair inner tubes, and the entire thing checked. If you use an electronic wheelchair that uses batteries, it is worth it to have that system looked at as well. It always makes sense to jook up with your wheelchair repair company or professional before hitting the road.
- Folding wheelchairs or those that can be taken apart need some special care. You should know how this works on your make and model. If you plan to have your wheelchair put in the cargo hold of the plane rather than have it stay with you in the passenger cabin, you need to be able to explain how it is taken apart or folded up. If you travel with this kind of wheelchair, you may want to carry certain parts of it, like the wheelchair hand rims, so that they are not lost. There are airlines that make you give them the official instructions from your wheelchair manufacturer.
- Put your name on everything. If you are putting any parts of your wheelchair in the cargo for your flight or flights, and you do not want to take the items with you, you need to label everything. For instance, those wheelchair hand rims need to have a label so you can prove they are yours. You may be asked for the serial number on your wheelchair.
- Talk to your airline in advance. Different airlines have different policies about when they like to hear from passengers that they will be accompanied by a service animal or are bringing a wheelchair. If you cannot find this information online, you should take the time to call the airlines and ask them directly.
- Brush up on your rights. People with disabilities have rights both when they are traveling and in general. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a lot of rules to protect people who have disabilities. For every 100 passenger seats on an airplane, the federal government requires space for one wheelchair to be stored. You can find more information online about what rights you have.
- Ask for a good seat. When you book your flights, try to get a seat with a flip-up armrest, if that is available or possible. Not all planes have this kind of seat. The seats behind the walls, also called a bulkhead row, can be better for you.
- Again, be your own advocate. If there are problems that you encounter while traveling through an airport, ask to talk to someone. Airports have Complaint Resolution Officials who can help you in a number of situations. If the airline or airport is not doing what they need to do to make their services available to people with disabilities, you need to speak up.
It is possible to have a good experience when flying with a wheelchair, though it may take some extra planning. Remember, airlines have to provide accommodations for you.