wheelchair users

Flying Tips For Wheelchair Users

For wheelchair users, navigating air travel may not be the most exciting thing to do. Dealing with the crowded airport, excess luggage and long queues while being confined to a chair could be frustrating.

Here are some helpful flying tips by TODAYonline for wheelchair users.


Before clicking the purchase button, even seasoned travellers should review the airline’s policies regarding passengers with disabilities.

When choosing a seat, you may opt for a window seat to avoid being crawled over by other passengers. Other travellers, particularly those who cannot transfer from a wheelchair to their seat independently, may prefer the aisle seat. The roomier bulkhead seating might be an option for some, just be aware the armrests do not raise.

Also, keep in mind that wheelchair users exit the aircraft last. The deplaning process can easily take 25 minutes or more, so when booking a connecting flight, always allow ample time.

After booking your flight, contact the airline at least 48 hours in advance of departure and let them know you will need special assistance. If you must change airlines, which can be common on international flights, be sure to notify them, too.


You can help prevent wheelchair damage by attaching written instructions explaining how to operate your chair, as well as how it folds and tilts. Before turning a wheelchair over to airport personnel, take off any removable parts such as the seat cushion, removable wheels and footrests. These items may be carried on the plane and do not count as baggage.

For your own baggage, carry as little luggage as possible. The airline’s curbside baggage check can be helpful if available, or consider purchasing a rolling suitcase designed to attach to a wheelchair.

Finally, always carefully inspect your wheelchair for damage when it’s returned to you and immediately notify the airline if there is a problem. Document any damage you find with photos that you can send to the airline, as well to file a compensation claim.



Many domestic flights are on single-aisle planes which rarely have accessible bathrooms onboard. Even though wide-body planes (those with two aisles) are required to have an accessible lavatory, the tight configuration doesn’t work for many travellers with disabilities. To avoid embarrassment, always confirm before departure that the plane has an onboard wheelchair. Flight attendants can push you to the bathroom. They do not assist with transferring to a toilet or providing personal care.

Better yet, consider that domestic airports are required to have accessible restrooms in all terminals; you will definitely be better off using the toilet before you depart. Other travellers might choose to use a catheter or wear protective undergarments.


Upon arrival at the airport, remind your airline that you need wheelchair assistance. Once you get to the gate, tell the agent you have a disability and want to pre-board. Unfortunately, you cannot roll on the aircraft and remain in your wheelchair. Passengers who are unable to walk are transferred to a narrow, high-backed aisle chair with security straps. The pre-boarding is a safety measure that allows people with disabilities the additional time or assistance they need to get to their seats.

Read More: Helpful Tips For Pregnant Travellers.


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