Taking Your Wheelchair on an Aeroplane - Fact Sheet
Here are some things to consider when making
airline reservations in Australia, although much of this
information will apply internationally.
You should make your reservation as far in advance as possible.
Inform the reservations person of your disability and ask what
assistance may be required.
If it is a long flight and you are able to use a standard rest
room but are unable to walk to the rest room, ask that they make
the aisle chair available to you during the flight.
Always confirm that the airline has a record of your requests 48
hours prior to departure. Some of the newer aeroplanes have lift up
armrests on some aisle seats so be sure to request one if it will
Be prepared if you are flying. For example you can learn how to
disassemble and reassemble your wheelchair for transport, or locate
a reliable wheelchair repair business at your destination just in
case it's needed.
At the Airport
Arrive early and make certain you get a gate check tag during
check in. This tag attached to your chair, lets the ground crew
know to bring your chair to the gate when your plane arrives,
rather than to the baggage claim area. Airline personnel, gate and
flight attendants have a lot of power and a lot of leeway, so it
helps if you can get them on your side.
You will generally be the first to board the plane and the last to
disembark, although flight personnel may ask if you wish to
disembark before or after the other passengers. If you use a fold
up manual wheelchair you can request that it be stowed in the on
board coat closet, if the plane has one, but this is purely at the
discretion of the flight crew and space may not always be
Transport of Wheelchairs
All electric chairs must be stowed as checked luggage so it is
important to minimise the possibility of damage during transit.
Remove seat cushions and any other parts that could easily become
separated. Disconnect and remove any battery wires that may be
visible to the ground crew. They have been known to remove them
before they load the chair into the cargo hold. For transporting
ease airlines much prefer gel or dry cell batteries to traditional
acid filled ones.
Some disassembly may be required for transport so it may be a
good idea to attach some "how-to" instructions to your chair. It
will be reassembled at the other end by a different ground crew who
may not be experienced in such procedures.
If you are unable to walk from your wheelchair to your seat in
the aircraft, you'll transfer to a carry-on or aisle chair for the
trip down the aisle.
You can't ride your chair onto the plane - it simply won't fit. An
aisle chair is a tall, skinny, high-backed chair designed to fit
down the narrow aisle of an aircraft. It has retaining straps to
hold you in and is quite stable. Even so it might be a good idea to
take your own leg strap just in case you need to strap your legs
into the chair.
Most planes are fitted with some aisle seating that has a
movable or lift up armrest. This enables an easier transfer from
the aisle chair. If you require assistance transferring to the
plane seat, take responsibility for yourself and tell the staff how
to help you. The staff are often helpful and well trained but you
are always safer not assuming anything.
If an aisle seat was requested but not allocated, ask the cabin
crew to swap your seat for another.
During the Flight
Some aircraft have a privacy curtain that includes the aisle to
allow a companion to assist you. Bear in mind not all aircraft have
disabled facilities in their rest rooms. Ask the reservations
person for as much information about the facilities on the type of
plane you will be flying on.
Some newer, wide body jets have one accessible rest room. On the
747-400 the rest room has outward swinging doors and handrails
which will allow the aisle chair. Doors on the 767-300 can be swung
and clipped into position to double the available space. The
747-300/767-200s all have outward swinging doors. Confirm they will
have an aisle chair if required.
Some airlines may offer a free ticket for carers of support
workers flying with you. However this may only apply if you pay
full fare and thus negate any saving. Still it doesn't hurt to try
for a discount ticket. Enjoy your flight!
This article has been adapted from the Civil Aviation
Authority's website at www.casa.gov.au/index.htm
with their permission.