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My name is David Smith and I am a Paralympic Champion in Boccia. A consequence of my sporting commitments is that I spend a lot of time travelling in my Quickie QM710 wheelchair. If you’re going on a holiday or planning a weekend away, it’s always worth putting aside the time to brush up on your air traveling knowledge. To keep your next adventure smooth and stress-free, take advantage of my top tips for travelling in an aeroplane with a wheelchair.
Luckily, the vast majority of airline companies offer specialised seats for people with mobility restrictions. However, as the number and specific features of these seats changes between airlines, you should always do your due diligence on each airline and their policies before booking any fares. If you have any doubts about whether an airline can accommodate your wheelchair, either contact the company’s support team or investigate travelling options with another airline.
Remember to make your airline reservations with plenty of time to spare. In the weeks leading up to your departure, make sure you contact the airline directly and clarify your physical requirements and preferences in relation to:
- Boarding and check-in procedures
- Security checks
- Assistance requirements
- Extra cost and availability of any other pertinent services
Departure airport services
Australian airlines and airports have developed an extensive network of Meet and Assist services for travellers with a disability or mobility limitation. Meet and Assist services are usually free of charge and can be selected during the booking process. Working in conjunction with airport Disability Access Facilitation Plans, airline personnel will meet the scheduled passenger at the airport and escort them through check-in, security and boarding. If you are using a wheelchair or crutches, the support personnel can help move you through the airport and assist in any security screening procedures affecting your mobility devices.
Checking in your wheelchair
Although travelling with your wheelchair can seem like a logistical nightmare, you can simplify the process considerably by making use of airline support services. Once entering an Australian airport, you can use your wheelchair to travel through the check-in area and security terminal. However, when you reach the boarding area, airline staff will request that you be transferred to an aisle chair if you are unable to board the plane without assistance. When your plane lands, it’s imperative that you don’t leave your seat until receiving confirmation from airline personnel that your wheelchair is ready and waiting for you at the aircraft doors.
Before you even reach the airport, you should contact the airline you are flying with to make sure that your wheelchair can be taken aboard your aircraft. If you are flying on a Boeing 737, the low height of the hold door (approximately 81 cm) will determine the conditions for travelling with a wheelchair. On small passenger aircraft, like the Boeing 737, electric wheelchairs can only be stowed if the backrest or seating system is disconnected from the chair frame. If you are unable to fold your wheelchair’s frame, you should try to fly on a larger aircraft, such as an Airbus, as you will be able to store your wheelchair upright instead of on its side.
If you plan to take a Sunrise Medical wheelchair travelling, you can consult the specific instruction manual, located on the Sunrise Medical product page, for more information about folding, storing and adjusting your wheelchair.
Guidelines for travelling with a wheelchair on these major Australian airlines can be found here:
Special assistance upon arrival at the airport
To keep your travel plans running smoothly, make sure you call your airline to determine the locations of any special assistance access points at the arrival and departure airports. If you require any chaperone facilities, contact your airline for advice on the most suitable option.
Tips for checking your wheelchair in at the airport
To minimise any unexpected delays when loading your wheelchair, take the time to remove loose components, including the footplates, headrest and armrests. If you use an powered wheelchair, consult the airline’s policy on traveling with lithium-ion, liquid-based, or dry-cell batteries. Before boarding an aisle chair, retrieve your wheelchair’s power cable and control knob and store them safely in your hand luggage. After taking these parts away, don’t forget to show the airline stowage personnel how to switch your wheelchair from powered movement to manual movement.
Travelling with a scooter on an airplane
If you are using a mobility scooter to travel through an airport, it is doubly important to contact assistance personnel prior to arrival. We advise anyone using a scooter to review airline guidelines on storing a scooter on domestic or international flights. If you can travel with your scooter, make sure you are keeping your seat cushion and basket safely secured in your luggage.
Boarding and flying with a wheelchair
Australian airline policy specifies that any passengers with limited or reduced mobility should be the first to board and the last to depart an aircraft. Passengers with reduced mobility are usually seated in an accessible area near the front of the aircraft that can easily be reached by flight staff. In some cases, budget airlines have been known to adjust the boarding process for scheduling reasons. When departing the aircraft, flight attendants may be able to make the disembarking process easier for travellers with limited mobility if they can access Ambi-lifts – spacious platforms that can quickly and comfortable transport passengers from a grounded aircraft to the exit terminal.
Insurance while travelling on an aeroplane
The final tip you should remember when travelling with a wheelchair is related to your insurance choices. Before you purchase your tickets, you should double check your travel insurance package and ensure that it covers any mobility equipment or devices you are taking with you. With some insurance packages, you may need to purchase additional cover or sign secondary declaration forms. If your wheelchair or mobility scooter is damaged upon arrival, the airline responsible for transporting the equipment must accept responsibility and reimburse you for any and all damages. To avoid this stressful and time-consuming situation, we encourage travellers to rent a wheelchair or scooter at their destination. However, such a decision would obviously depend on the requirements and capabilities of the person requiring the equipment.
Do you have a taste for adventure? If you’re looking for more information about travelling with wheelchairs or holidaying in wheelchair friendly destinations, check out some of the other popular posts on the Sunrise Medical blog.
Whether you’re planning a short holiday or the trip of a lifetime, choosing the right wheelchair can be the difference between a disaster story and a treasured memory. Don’t waste any more time, browse through Sunrise Medical’s wide range of manual wheelchair and powered wheelchairs, and start imagining your next adventure.