Question about power wheel chairs and air travel

I’ve been avoiding air travel for a long time now, mostly because of all the walking and standing around involved (I have severe arthritis), but also because of the cost and all the TSA inconveniences.

I have a Jazzy now, so that takes care of the walking and standing in the airport at least, but I want to know how airlines deal with it. Do they allow power wheel chairs on the plane? or at least on the gangway, and then stow it and bring it to the passenger upon deplaning? What are the rules/restrictions concerning power wheel chairs?

And please don’t just post links. I’m looking for answers from people with first hand experience please.

Thank you.

Policy will vary widely by airline, but typically, you will be required to check it and it will travel with the luggage/cargo. It may need to be partially disassembled. The battery may need to be removed, or at least disconnected, depending on the type.

It’s a very good idea to photographically document your chair as soon before you turn it over to the care of the airline as possible, for damage claims.

You will be transported to the gate and onto the plane via golf cart/folding wheelchair.

Thank you

I looked up “Jazzy” and I can’t imagine transporting anything I saw as other than shipping as freight. They look to be substantial machines that are not designed to fold plus ANY carrier would have to deal with containing the lead-acid battery which is looked upon as a toxic shipping hazard.

I wonder if it would even be allowed through security? Could you arrange to rent a Jazzy from a dealer at your destination?

I could, but then I have the whole standing and walking to deal with - plus climbing into a courtesy van -

as for being transported around the airport on a folding wheelchair, they don’t make them wide enough for me to sit comfortably - and if I squeeze into a regular one, then the wheels rub against the metal sides of the chair, and the friction heats up the metal and my hips get burned.

From a friend’s experience:

  1. Be prepared for airport security to partially disassemble your chair while looking into the potentially terrorist battery, but not know how to reassemble it.
  2. Be prepared for damage to occur in transit. A friend just visited, and the chair had some gouges out of the foam padding and the arms were slightly out of whack. Nothing that impaired the function, but damage all the same.

People fly with these chairs all the time, and the airlines do their best, but it’s not a perfect system by any means.

My wife also has problems walking and standing. We flew BA from Heathrow to Istanbul last year and told the airline that she would need assistance at the airport. They were brilliant - We made our (slow) way to a collection point and used a phone to call for help. Quite quickly, a guy arrived, pushing a wheelchair and he took us to our lounge. When it was time to board, he came back and took us to the door of the plane.

It was much the same in Istanbul and also on the return journey. There were four people on the flight in wheelchairs but none were powered and I think that they were all the airline’s.

If you don’t want to pay for the freight - try searching for wheelchair hire at your destination.

Sorry - Ninja’d

Within the US these things are transported all the time. The baggage staff is very familiar with dealing with the batteries & such.

I don’t work with the passenger service side of things, but I don’t recall seeing people on personal power scooters or power chairs in the terminal. So odds are you’ll check the device at the ticket counter then be wheelchaired in an airport-provided chair to the gate. Which chair comes with a flunky to push it for you.

If you haven’t flown in awhile, all the chairs were replaced a few years ago with the very wide models. It’s unlikely you’re wider than that. And if you are, you’d better tell the airline how much you weigh so they can charge you for two adjacent seats.

Checking your power chair / scooter also means the TSA checkpoint has no interaction with it. It goes as checked baggage, not as a carry-on. So you never have possession of it on the secure side and it doesn’t go through carry-on screening. yes, it’ll get looked at by the same TSA folks that inspect checked baggage. But that’s a different screening process and those folks are used to seeing these various assistive devices.
Once it’s time to board, the wheelchair flunky will take you down the jetway to the aircraft door. If you can walk at all, you’ll be expected to make your way from the aircraft door to your seat & back unassisted. Workers can give you an arm for steadying your walk until you’re in the aisle and can hold onto the seats on both sides.

If you’re flat unable to walk, you’ll be loaded onto an “aisle chair” & wheeled to your seat. That’s not really compatible with severe overweightness, wherein you’d need to struggle past each row of seats due to width. But we do move hefty 300+ pounders that way every day.

Aisle chair is not really compatible with using the lav on the aircraft either. There is a portable one on board, but it’s a major production to use it.

The smartest thing you can do is call the airline(s) you intend to use, explain exactly how big you are, how able to walk, what equipment you have, and what help you need. They’ll tell you exactly what they do at each of the airports involved, and tell you about any extra charges for extra services.

You do NOT want to show up at the airport and intend to surprise everybody with your extra needs. That won’t save you money, and will waste a bunch of time you may not have before the flight leaves and definitely will greatly increase the odds of some ball being dropped somewhere along the way.

Ain’t that the truth. :frowning:

Long haul aircraft now have at least one handicapped-size lav that can accommodate somebody who’s either huge or 100% unable to walk & who needs the aisle chair. That person needs to not be modest, since the process is pretty undignified and the door may not be fully closed with the chair & helper involved.

On less than transcon or trans-oceanic flights an aisle chair user is well-advised to also be able to hold it really, really well or have some kind of catheter & bag arrangement.

Sad but true.

Thank you all. The info and suggestions are going to be helpful in making my decision. Fortunately I have time since the trip I am thinking about is not until June

I almost always book online and I don’t think you need to call to arrange special accommodations. The airline and travel booking sites I’ve used all have sections to specify whether you have any special needs.

I’m glad someone else is saying it too.

We recently went through some wheelchair issues when my grandmother took a flight within the US. Things went badly enough that I researched a bit of the laws and regulations that describe the airline’s responsibilities to passengers needing assistance. In short, there is the law and then there is how the real world works.

The law says you do not have to provide advanced notice to the airline. Reality says it is highly advised.

The law says the airline must provide an attendant and wheelchair for needed assistance to reach the boarding gate and to change gates. They must not leave the passenger unattended for more than 30 minutes. Reality says they will drop you at the gate and leave you on your own regardless of how long until your flight boards.

The law says the airline cannot charge the passenger for wheelchair assistance. In reality the airlines realize this is one area they cannot get away with adding fees.

The law provides that the airline can require you to check in at least one hour before your flight if you need a battery powered wheelchair transported. In reality, checking in MUCH earlier is essential. In the unlikely event that there is room in the cabin a power wheelchair can be stored in a closet. More likely it will need to be checked as baggage.

The battery needs to be non-spillable and labelled accordingly by the manufacturer and if so the airline cannot by law require the battery to be removed and separately packaged.

Normal liability limits for lost or damaged luggage do not apply to wheelchairs and other assistive devices. Compensation for a lost, damaged, or destroyed wheelchair “shall be the original purchase price of the device.”

True. But if a passenger doesn’t understand the whole process, the website isn’t real good at answering free-form questions.

A seasoned handicapped traveler is a different story and can certainly arrange all the stuff they know they need via website.

Also, each airline’s procedures are different, within the fairly wide latitude of Federal regs. So when traveling on an unfamiliar carrier, or when first going international after all your experience has been domestic, a call to confirm you’ve thought of everything is just smart planning.

Thanks again

The more you all tell me, the more I am leaning towards skipping that trip and sticking with the ones to which I can drive

My husband is a C5/6 quad and uses a power chair. Things may well be different in Australia but here is our experience:

We found Qantas to be the most wheelchair friendly airline for domestic travel. It would be wise for you to investigate the policies of the airlines you may be flying with.

We were expected to be checked in well in advance of the time suggested for able bodied passengers and were the first to get on the plane and the last to get off. He was able to stay in his chair until the end of the gangway at which time he was lifted out of it via a mobile hoist and transported to his seat.

I was required to turn off the battery, remove the footplates (I also removed the control, since I didn’t want it to be damaged) and lower the backrest onto the seat. Reverse the process on arrival at destination airport. The staff were wonderful but the process was nerve wracking, most likely since this was the first time we’d flown since he’d gone from a manual chair to a power one.

If you sit on a special cushion, I’d also suggest taking this onto the plane with you as airline staff don’t always realise how fragile (and expensive) these items can be.

Check with your airline to see how they handle power chairs.

For example, United’s wheelchair guide indicates that they accept one wheelchair at no additional bag fee and that they they try not to disassemble powered wheelchairs unless they have to to get them aboard the aircraft.

They even include a helpful tag you can print and complete that provides them with most of the important information.

Only thing that could be an issue are the batteries. Looks like they are considered hazardous materials so they have to be up to safety standard to fly.

Batteries like that are considered hazardous materials = “dangerous goods” under the DOT regs.

Any reasonably modern chair / scooter/ mobility device uses either sealed lead acid, NiCd, NiMH, or Li-ion. Any of these are acceptable and don’t require any disassembly of the device.

10 or more years ago there were lots of devices which used wet-cell lead acid batteries that were not sealed. IOW, if the battery was turned upside down, liquid sulfuric acid drained out of the vent.

For those the procedure was/is that our cargo folks would/will disassemble the device enough to remove the battery. Then place the battery in a sealed liquid-proof carton with enough absorbent to capture all the acid the battery held. And they’d put it all back together at the other end before you got it back.

Unless the whole thing was a corroded mess or they broke something. In which case problems ensued.

Fortunately, wet-cell device batteries are about like DOS-based computers nowadays. They exist, but not many people have them.

The other issue with mobility devices is height. On RJ-sized aircraft most devices won’t fit upright. So the baggage loaders will try to fold it down as much as possible and may end up laying it on its side in the hold. Which operations may result in damage.

On 737/A320 & larger aircraft this isn’t an issue. The thing will be put in there upright on its wheels and surrounded by enough baggage that it can’t move. Damage isn’t impossible, but it’s much less likely.

My Jazzy weighs a good 250 pounds, and unless the controller is turned on and the joystick moved, the wheels are damned difficult to budge