Want to know how to get wheelchair assistance at the airport? Air travel for people with disabilities is often fraught with challenges, but I’ll help you overcome them.
Without adequate help, disabled people have immense struggles from entry into the airport lounge to the departure gate.
I have the perfect guide to get help from the airport staff since I’ve been in these situations more often than I remember.
Table of Contents
- Early preparation is essential if you want wheelchair assistance at the airport.
- Always call ahead to ensure airport and airline staff are ready to offer all the assistance you need.
- You’re legally entitled to all the help you need at an airport as a disabled person.
- Check and double-check everything before leaving early for the airport.
Wheelchair and Guided Assistance in Airports
For disabled passengers, arriving at any airport without help can be a nightmare (1).
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 mandates all U.S.-based airlines to offer all the help a disabled person could need in an airport (2).
But even with all the disability policies in place, you need to plan how to get this help.
Here is how to get wheelchair assistance at the airport.
Step 1: Make Prior Arrangements
When you are a disabled person, traveling needs even more planning than usual. That’s why you must make all the prior arrangements before booking the flight.
It is wise to check the airport accessibility policy and see if they help disabled passengers.
If they offer assistance, what kind of help is it? Will it fit your needs? Are their parking lots wheelchair accessible? Check all of this.
Also, check your preferred airline’s website for information on their assistance to passengers. Most American airlines show on their websites the kind of assistance they offer.
Cover all the bases before deciding what airline you want to use.
Step 2: Get All the Supporting Documentation
Here you’ll need your doctor to describe the help you need when traveling by air. If the support is a medical necessity, you’ll need documentation.
The documentation will also help outline your mobility classification for the benefit of the airlines.
Step 3: Contact the Airline for Wheelchair Accessibility Options
Calling ahead is essential to getting wheelchair help when traveling by air. When carrying out this step, outline your needs according to your doctor and ask what the specific airline offers.
If you are traveling with an additional person, have the airline know that too. They need to know so they can arrange for a wheelchair attendant to be ready to help you when you arrive.
Also, know the seat width for the plane to see if your manual or electric wheelchair could have issues entering the plane. That will allow the airline staff to make proper arrangements to help you.
Step 4: Tick the Special Needs Section When Booking
After all the previous preparations, you’ll be ready to book your flight. Only proceed with this step once you’re satisfied with the earlier steps.
If you called an airline and had an issue with their accessibility options, don’t book a flight with them.
When booking the flight, specify you’re a passenger with special needs that requires help boarding the plane.
This step will also help you get the aircraft seat of your choice. Getting an aisle seat will make getting into and out of the plane as efficient as possible.
Step 5: Check and Confirm Everything
I can’t emphasize this step more. Check and double-check everything to avoid any issues when you arrive at the airport. This is something you can do on the eve of the flight.
Pack everything you’ll need for the trip, including the documentation, to show airline personnel.
Step 6: Arrive Early for the Flight
Travelers with disabilities need extra time to process everything before the flight. Even with the anticipated help from wheelchair attendants, the handling time at the check-in counter could be considerably longer.
That’s why you need to arrive hours in advance to avoid issues with boarding. Arriving early enough reduces the potential for complications.
Step 7: Inform Flight Attendants You Need Assistance
Remember to communicate your need for assistance to the flight attendants while airborne.
That could come in handy when you need a bathroom break or help to get off the plane at the final destination.
READ MORE: Wheelchair for Narrow Spaces
What Are the Eligibility Rules for Airport Wheelchair Assistance?
Not everyone who asks for assistance is eligible for it. So there are some eligibility rules, so airlines help only those people who need it.
If you tick any of the boxes below, you’re eligible for airport wheelchair assistance.
1. You lost the use of your lower limbs in your disability.
2. You are completely immobile and can’t get to the airport or board the airplane yourself.
3. If, because of your disability, you can’t use the stairs.
4. If you need assistance moving from the airport terminal to the plane.
If you’re unsure about how much to tip an airport wheelchair attendant, our guide provides a helpful breakdown of the etiquette and standard practices. Be sure to read our article on “How Much to Tip Airport Wheelchair Attendant” to ensure you show your appreciation appropriately.
1. Is wheelchair service free at the airport?
If you’re disabled, you’re legally entitled to wheelchair assistance at the airport. This service is free, and you don’t have to pay for it.
2. Should I tip for wheelchair assistance at the airport?
If you can, it is a friendly practice to tip the airline staff or attendants that help you efficiently access your flight.
Now that you know how to get wheelchair assistance at the airport, you can have a better experience navigating airport crowds.
Though disability is a travel limiting factor, with wheelchair assistance, you don’t have to worry too much about it. (3)
Your disability should never stop you from traveling.
Only ensure the airport and airline know your needs at least 48 hours before the trip to organize all the assistance you need.
What are some common challenges you’ve had with air travel as a disabled person? Please share with us in the comments.
1. Davies AP. Air travel: The experiences of wheelchair users and those who help them and implications for service improvements [Internet]. discovery.ucl.ac.uk. 2020 [cited 2022 Oct 31]. Available from: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10109531/
2. Passengers with Disabilities [Internet]. U.S. Department of Transportation. 2012. Available from: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/passengers-disabilities
3. Travel Patterns of American Adults with Disabilities | Bureau of Transportation Statistics [Internet]. www.bts.dot.gov. 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.bts.dot.gov/travel-patterns-with-disabilities