If you’ve been busy planning a holiday abroad, or you’re thinking of going away soon, you’ll need to consider airlines and their accessibility to wheelchair users. Here, we explore the details of what’s involved with taking your wheelchair away with you – along with a few top tips to make your next getaway a little less stressful.
The first thing to know is that all airlines provide seats for people with reduced mobility, so that’s one less thing to worry about. But it’s important to know that the number of seats available and the terms of carriage can vary from airline to airline.
With this in mind, it always pays to check your chosen airline’s website carefully. And it’s worth doing this even before you make a booking, so you know for sure whether they can accommodate your individual needs and wheelchair requirements.
It’s easy to find guidelines for some of the major airlines online, including British Airways, Easyjet, Flybe, Ryanair, Thomas Cook, TUI and Virgin.
Usually, you’ll be able to use your wheelchair to get around the airport, and take it with you right up to the aircraft doors. From there, if you’re unable or barely able to walk, you’ll be taken to your seat in a special aisle chair – which is narrow enough to fit through the aisle of the plane. If you can manage to board the plane independently, you can take it from here.
What happens to your own wheelchair at this stage will depend on the type you have, so we’ve included a quick rundown below. Just remember – like we said before, every airline has different conditions, as well as particular weight and size limits to consider, so it’s important to understand each company’s policy in order to know where you stand.
If you have a foldable manual wheelchair through the airport and fold it down before you enter the aircraft door. At this point, it will be taken to put in the hold. You’ll need to make sure you check it in at the counter beforehand; you can simply do this when you check in your other bags.
If your manual wheelchair cannot be folded down, then you’ll usually still be able to check it in without any issues. However, you should know that if you don’t have a foldable chair, then there is a possibility that it could be damaged in the hold – because it will need to be placed on its side. It’s advisable to get in touch with the airline at least 48 hours before your flight is booked. And ideally, you should make the dimensions and type of wheelchair known to the airline when you make your booking.
If you have an electric wheelchair, then it must be made safe for the plane when you reach the boarding gate. Usually, this will involve removing any loose parts, such as armrests, headrests and footplates. As for the battery, if your wheelchair is powered by dry cell, lithium or liquid based batteries, then you’ll need to check the airline’s policy regarding this.
At this stage, you should also remove the power cable and control knob and pop them in your hand luggage. Don’t worry about disconnecting the batteries or removing them completely, just as long as the control is disconnected or the fuse has been removed.
It’s also important to show the airport staff how your electric wheelchair works, so they know how to switch between manual and power mode. This will enable them to move it easily and secure it properly inside the aircraft.
Once you’ve reached your destination, your wheelchair will be brought to the door for you. It’s highly recommended that you don’t try to leave the plane until it then.
Depending on your airline, the staff may offer to provide you with the airport’s own wheelchair, but for your safety and convenience, it may be better to wait until your own is ready. This is because chairs can easily be damaged as they’re being taken from the hold to baggage reclaim.