Navigating an airport in a wheelchair can be daunting at first- I hope this guide helps you have a smoother experience! Even with the extra steps, I love going through airports! After 20 years of being in a wheelchair, I feel like I’ve mastered it.
Here are some of my travel essentials:
- Batec Mini– this electric handbike attaches to the front of my chair. It is one of the best piece of adaptive equipment I’ve come across in my two decades of this life. It makes navigating through the airport and handling my luggage so much easier.
- Basket for Batec Mini
- Two Backpacks– one on the back of my chair as a carry on, & a smaller one that goes in my basket that holds medical supplies, medicines, anything I can’t lose in a suitcase if my luggage got lost. I’ve been able to fly with the smaller backpack counting as a medical carry-on/personal item.
- Jacket– for me, it’s almost always a jean jacket!
- Snacks– current fav is the dark chocolate coconut barkthins!
- As you might know from my instagram highlights, I love Pinkberry. The Nashville location closed over 5 years ago and I’m still sad about it. So whenever I’m in a place that has Pinkberry, I have to go. There are several airports I’ve been to lately that have them! Shoutout to Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) for having not one but two (!!) Pinkberry locations IN THE SAME TERMINAL. It was a great day. Follow my Instagram to see my reviews of each airport I visit and whether or not they have a Pinkberry in them. That’s
probablydefinitely the biggest factor that goes into my ranking.
Before You Fly:
– Pro-Tip 1: Get TSA-Pre Check! If you can’t walk through the metal detector, this will save you SO much time! Instead of getting a full body pat-down, testing your hands, chair, and a chair inspection, they should just swab your hands and your chair and send you on your way! Also, you don’t have to take off your shoes/as many jackets which can help if those things take you a long time/are difficult for you. & of course, you get all the benefits able-bodied people get! I discovered this trick a few years ago and it has been awesome!
– check luggage
– get inspection tags
I check my luggage so it’s one less thing I have to worry about.
Inspection tags have information about your wheelchair like frame color, type of chair, the level of wear and tear, etc. so that the airlines can document your chair and know what it’s like in case anything happens to it.
Security: Security is a little different for most people if you are not able to walk through the scanner. Plan extra time (10-15 minutes) at this part of your day, just to be safe. If that’s the case for you, follow these steps.
Since you can’t go through the metal detector, a TSA agent of your gender will pat you down, inspect your chair, and swab your hands and chair for explosives. The TSA agents will guide you through the pat-down process.
– First thing: MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH TSA AGENT, MAKE SURE THEY CALL FOR FEMALE ASSIST (male assist if you’re a guy) so you aren’t waiting as long for someone to help you!
– Take off backpack from the back of my chair, small backpack & basket to be scanned, take off shoes/jackets if you don’t have precheck
– Wait to the side so you’re not in other people’s way but also in sight of the TSA Agents so they don’t forget about you!
– The TSA agent who will pat you down will come get you and lead to the area. On your way, grab your bags or if you’re traveling with someone they can help get them and meet you at the pat-down area.
-After you get through security, go straight to the gate to get your remaining tags for your chair. You can always leave the gate to do other things if you have time but this is an important step! Just be back in time to pre-board! (about 40 minutes before your plane is scheduled to leave).
At the gate:
-Get claim-at-gate and destination tags from the counter
-Talk to the attendant about what you need help with during the boarding process so you’re on the same page
These tags are really important because they make sure your chair is waiting for you as soon as you deplane!
– Pro-Tip 2: Find a bathroom before you get on the plane. There’s not a way to get onto the bathroom if you’re by yourself and can’t walk at all. On international flights, there are, but they are very small and hard to maneuver.
-Be at your gate 40 minutes* before scheduled departure to be ready to preboard
-Prepare chair to go underneath the plane at the bottom of the jet ramp
-Transfer to aisle chair
*40 minutes before takeoff is about the time Southwest preboards, I don’t know for sure for other airlines. I almost fly exclusively Southwest and love their customer service!
Wheelchairs go underneath the plane, just like strollers if you are familiar with that process. When I get to the bottom of the jet ramp, I prepare my chair to go underneath. For me, this means taking the backpack off the back of my chair, taking the basket off of the front of my chair, taking the battery off of my Batec (it has to go up in the overhead compartments due to regulations), and taking my seat cushion off of my chair. At this point I explain how to handle my chair if the baggage handlers are around. Flight attendants are around to help me and who I’m with (if I’m with anyone) carry all of our stuff on- both backpacks, battery, and seat cushion. I take my seat cushion on board to sit on to avoid any pressure sores and also so it doesn’t get lost underneath the plane. (This part of prepping my chair is fun because it makes me feel like a transformer!!!)
Note: I know Southwest Airlines has enough space for some wheelchair users to roll onto the plane and transfer to the front row seats. I’ve personally never tried this because I don’t like sitting in the front row (no tray tables and you have to put everything up for takeoff and landing), but this might be a good option if you like/don’t mind the front row! I don’t know if this is true on other airlines or not, but since Southwest doesn’t have any type of first-class it might be unique to them.
Once I prep my chair to go underneath, I transfer to an aisle chair and get strapped in. There are several straps that are buckled, the attendants will help with this process. I usually sit in the third or fourth row. I personally like sitting in the window seat because when other people they don’t have to climb over you. Also because the window is fun to look out of.
Deplaning: just boarding in reverse! After I become a transformer, I get to zoom up the ramp with my Batec. The flight attendants always love it!
-Pro-Tip 3: Get luggage with 4 wheels on the bottom so you can wheel it easily! I use The Carry-On from Away and I love it. I shorten the handle to just tall enough to hold onto it and roll the bag with my left hand (keeping the bag at a 90 degree angle with the ground) and control my Batec with my right hand.
I do not recommend a light color of this suitcase because it will get scuffed up. Even though the white picture looks gorgeous online. Trust me. https://www.awaytravel.com/suitcases/carry-on-without-battery/minted
– Pro-Tip 1: Get TSA-Pre Check!
– Pro-Tip 2: Find a bathroom before you get on the plane.
-Pro-Tip 3: Get luggage with 4 wheels on the bottom so you can wheel it easily!
-plan an extra 10-15 minutes for security, just to be safe.
-3 important tags for your wheelchair: inspection, destination, and claim-at-gate
I know this is a lot of information. If you have any further questions or want clarification, do not hesitate to reach out! Instagram is the best way to get ahold of me- send me a message @rosieroaming! If you don’t have Instagram, leave a comment on this post and I will respond!