This guide to bringing a mobility scooter or a wheelchair on a plane comes to us from Kristin.
Travel is an amazing thing and something that everyone of all abilities should be able to experience. When you are able to fly to a destination, it opens so much more of the world for you to explore (like international travel). However, there are some lingering questions and concerns that people with disabilities have about airline travel. This post will address the question, can I take a mobility scooter on a plane, as well as some related need to know information and common concerns.
Keep reading to get all the details about flying with a mobility scooter or wheelchair.
Can I take a mobility scooter on a plane?
You can absolutely take a mobility scooter on a plane! This is a great option so you can take your scooter with you and have a device you’re already comfortable with at your destination.
When you have limited mobility, flying with a mobility scooter also allows you to see and do more when you travel as you can conserve your energy and it can be less physically demanding.
Regulations/what to expect when flying with a mobility scooter
So, now that you know you can take your mobility scooter on a plane, it’s important to know what to expect when you do so. This information, combined with the tips below, will ensure you have all the information you need for your next flight.
Here’s the initial information you should know.
Check that the batteries are FAA approved
One of the only obstacles that may prevent you from taking your mobility scooter on the plane is if the batteries are not FAA approved. You can find this information out by looking for an airplane symbol on the battery itself, looking in the owner’s manual, or by knowing the type of battery you have and googling whether it is approved for air travel.
Mobility Devices are free to check
Under law, airlines cannot charge you fees to check mobility devices or medical equipment. Not everyone is aware of this fact, so an uniformed ticket agent may try to charge you.
Know your rights and don’t let this happen. Ask to speak with a supervisor if informing the ticket agent doesn’t resolve things. This is true for both international and domestic flights.
Where your mobility scooter will be stored
Your device will not be able to fit in the passenger area on the plane, and will therefore go into the cargo hold with the rest of the luggage. You can either check your scooter when you check in (which isn’t advised, but more on that later) and then utilize one of the airport wheelchairs, or you can gate check your scooter.
Gate checking your scooter means that the airline will give you a special tag for your device, allow you to drive it to the door of the aircraft and then staff will take it down to the cargo hold and load it onto the plane.
Your mobility scooter will be returned to you at the airplane door for any layovers you may have and at your final destination.
This is only true, however, if you gate checked your device. If you checked it with your luggage, it will be waiting in the baggage claim area.
You may need to remove the battery and take it on the plane with you
For safety reasons and per airline regulations, you may need to remove the battery from your mobility scooter and take it on the plane with you in the passenger area. This is to help control temperature, which may affect the battery and to prevent any possibility of a fire.
If you need assistance carrying the battery on the plane, a flight attendant can assist you.
You will be the first on the plane and the last off the plane
If you require additional time to board or require assistance with boarding, you will be one of the first groups of people allowed to get on the plane. This gives staff more time to assist you without the crowds.
Likewise, if you need to take your time getting off the plane or assistance, you will be asked to wait until everyone else has disembarked the plane. This is important to know when you have connecting flights or just what to expect.
Pro Tip: Always allow for at least 2 hours between connecting flights so you have plenty of time to get off the plane and get to your next gate.
13 Tips for flying with a mobility scooter
These tips will help your trip go more smoothly if you’re bringing a mobility scooter on a plane.
1. Call the Airline ahead of time
Once you book your ticket, you should call the airline’s accessibility department. The number for this department can be found on the airline’s website or you can call the general number and ask to be transferred.
It is always recommended that you call vs submitting any requests online as you will receive confirmation that your needs have been noted and addressed.
During this call, you should let them know the brand and model of your mobility scooter as well as the type of battery it uses. Also notify them of any assistance you may need at the airport, such as if you can climb steps or any assistance you may require in boarding the plane.
Finally, ask for them to give you seat assignments, as they may be able to ensure that you are closer to the front of the plane to shorten your walking distance.
If you are flying with a CPAP machine, oxygen, or any other medical devices, this would be the time to inform them or this as well.
2. Have information about your device available.
As mentioned above, the accessibility department will want information on the type of battery used, make and model, as well as possible additional information such as the weight of your scooter, and whether it folds or disassembles. However, you should have this information with you at the airport as well since the ticket agent may have similar questions.
3. Do NOT check your mobility scooter with your luggage
This option will be given to you when you check in, however checking your device with your luggage can increase the chances of it getting lost or damaged.
It is always advised to gate check your mobility scooter. This will also help you to be more comfortable while you wait for your flight.
4. Make sure to have a fully charged battery
The last thing you want to happen is to run out of battery on your travel day. You will need power to get around the airport (which some are very large) and once again when you get to your destination (not only at the airport but to get you to your hotel or any sightseeing you may be doing).
5. Take photos of your mobility scooter
It is always a good idea to take pictures of your mobility scooter from multiple angles prior to boarding any flight. This will help in the event that your device gets lost or damaged. Make sure to take a photo of the serial number as well.
In the event that, God forbid, something happens to your scooter, photos will prove to the airline that there wasn’t damage before the flight, give them information to help locate the mobility scooter, and prove that you do in fact own it. Phone pictures are sufficient, but be sure it also records the date that the photos were taken.
6. Know who to contact at the airport if something happens to your scooter
In the event that your scooter is lost or damaged, it is important that you act in a timely manner to notify someone and file a claim. Ask to speak to the CRO or Complaint Resolution Official and notify them of what occurred and what the problems are.
If they do not help you file a claim, you will need to do this at the airline’s baggage office.
DO NOT leave the airport without notifying someone AND filing a claim.
It is also good practice to find out how the airline plans to resolve the issue and who you can contact for updates and further information.
The airline should also provide you with a mobility device for you to use while yours is being found or repaired. You should also take your own photos of any damage that has been done for your own records.
7. Be prepared by looking up repair shops at your destination ahead of time
In some cases, the airline will want any repairs done to your device completed by one of the companies they work with, while other times they will leave getting the repairs done up to you and reimburse you for the cost.
If the latter is the case, then knowing where you may be able to get repairs done at your destination can be a lifesaver. This may mean that you get your device back sooner and can use it for a portion of your trip.
8. Carry a spare key with you
Anything loose and not attached to your scooter (like a key) can have a tendency to get lost or misplaced. Always be sure to carry a spare key with you on the plane and when you travel in general. This will serve as a backup in case anything should happen to the other key.
9. Remember to pack your charging cable
It can be so easy to forget last-minute important things like charging cables, and a replacement could be hard to find or take days to get to you. Make a packing list of the last-minute items you will need for your trip to help ensure it doesn’t get accidentally left at home.
10. Write down folding or disassembly instructions and secure them to your scooter
Boarding the plane can happen quickly, and you may not have time to explain the best way to transport or care for your mobility scooter. Having written instructions on how to operate, fold and/or disassemble your device will help decrease the chances for damage or misuse.
If you are traveling to a foreign country, try to have the instructions translated into the native language.
11. Be prepared to show gate agents or staff how to care for your scooter
If time allows, it is always better to verbally tell and/or physically show someone how to fold or disassemble your scooter. This allows you to answer any questions that they have and show them the best place to grab hold of your device for lifting. Again, a little time spent working with staff will help to prevent damage.
12. Arrive at the airport early
You should arrive at the airport two hours ahead of your scheduled departure for domestic flights and at least 3 hours in advance for international flights. Doing this allows for plenty of time to check-in, get through security and if necessary, speak to the gate agents.
This also allows the airline enough time to make sure all the staff and equipment is available to assist you in boarding or getting through the airport.
13. Make sure to get a tag for your device
Most airline staff are good about making sure you have a tag for your device, but it is something that can sometimes get overlooked. You can obtain this tag in one of two places.
First, you may be given this when you check in at the ticket counter (you will not be able to check in online if traveling with a mobility device) or second, you can get a tag at the gate from a gate agent.
Do NOT board the plane without having a tag on your mobility device as it will get lost.
Can I take a wheelchair on a plane?
Just like flying with a mobility scooter, yes you can bring a wheelchair on a plane. Much of the process and regulations are the same for both wheelchairs and scooters.
There are however, a few additional factors to consider which will be discussed below as well as common concerns and questions.
What to expect when flying with a wheelchair
What to expect when flying with a wheelchair is going to be the same as flying with a scooter. Similar to what was discussed above, you should contact the airline once you’ve booked your tickets to discuss your needs and provide them with information about your wheelchair.
Here are some common questions that get asked that are more unique to travel as a wheelchair user.
Where will my wheelchair be stored?
If you are flying with a manual wheelchair and on a larger aircraft, there may be room to store a folding manual chair in a closet for mobility devices on the plane.
If, however, you are traveling with a powered wheelchair or a manual chair that doesn’t fold, it will need to be stored in the cargo hold area of the plane. This can also happen if there is no room in the closet on the plane or for smaller aircraft.
How will I board the plane if I cannot walk?
If you cannot board the plane by walking or if the aisles are too small for you to be able to navigate safely, airlines have a specialized wheelchair that staff will use to assist you during the boarding process. These are called aisle wheelchairs and they are quite narrow so that they can fit through the aisles on the plane.
If you can transfer yourself from your wheelchair to the aisle wheelchair, you may. If you are unable to do so, staff is there to assist you.
It is very important that you tell them the best ways to assist, if you have any tender areas, and what you would like them to do. While staff sometimes ask, they also don’t always remember that this is best practice. They may also have very little training.
Always be an advocate for yourself!
Pro Tip: To help prevent injury, you may want to bring and utilize a transfer sling to make this process easier.
Are there accessible bathrooms on the plane?
Yes and no. Larger planes will have a bathroom that they label as accessible, however, this just means it’s not quite as closet sized as their non accessible bathrooms. These will be in no way the size of a standard accessible restroom and many wheelchair users find them extremely difficult to use.
Smaller planes will not have restrooms at all or just the regular tiny closet sized ones.
It is in your best interest to use a truly accessible restroom in the airport terminal before you board the plane.
Unfortunately, the lack of truly accessible bathrooms on planes leads to people dehydrating themselves, starving themselves and/or choosing shorter flights. Some people choose to wear adult diapers just in case of emergencies or accidents.
There are organizations that are trying to fight and persuade airlines to make changes, but that will likely be a long process.
Tips for Taking your Wheelchair on a plane
Follow the 13 tips for flying with a mobility scooter that are listed above, as well as the additional tips below.
Remove your joystick and any other loose attachments or parts
If possible, remove the joystick from your powered wheelchair as this sticks out and is one of the most commonly damaged items. This same idea goes for other parts that can be easily removed such as head rests, any specialized cushions, and detachable foot pedals on manual wheelchairs.
Removing them ahead of the flight will prevent damage and the chance of them getting lost.
If these pieces cannot be removed, use bubble wrap and duct tape to surround and protect these delicate parts to the best of your ability. You can also zip tie removable foot pedals.
Decide which seat will work best for you
Choosing between an aisle seat and a window seat both have pros and cons. While it may be easier to transfer to an aisle seat, it will require someone climbing over you to get in and out of their seat.
The window seat will prevent someone getting up close and personal as they climb over you, and will give you the side of the plane to lean against, but may be harder to transfer into.
Bring comfort equipment with you
Let’s face it, airplanes are uncomfortable for pretty much everyone, unless you’re able to purchase one of those fancy business or first class seats. For people with disabilities, however, the seats on a plane can feel excruciating at times.
Here are some tips to try to increase your comfort level during a flight.
If you have difficulty transferring your weight or are prone to sores, bring and use any specialty cushions you have for your wheelchair onto the plane and use them.
Likewise, if you have difficulty holding yourself up, consider bringing a harness that attaches to the seat belt to help give you some relief. If you do not have such a harness, contact the All Wheels Up organization to purchase or possibly obtain a free one.
Pillows can also be a great tool, but not necessarily those pathetically thin ones you receive on long haul flights in economy class. When you board the plane, as a flight attendant if there are any extra pillows from business or first class.
These pillows are more like regular pillows and can be used for back support or however works best for you. These may not always be available, but it never hurts to ask.
Is it Safe to take my mobility scooter and/or wheelchair on a plane?
The answer to this question is a complicated one as the answer is both yes and no.
While many people have successful flights without any issues or damage to their devices, the fact is mobility devices do get damaged on planes. Unfortunately, this happens more often than it should.
It wasn’t until 2018 that laws went into effect requiring airlines to report damaged, lost or stolen mobility devices, and there was a significant decrease in travel during COVID so there isn’t a lot of data overall.
However, the Washington Post reported that in 2019 (the first full year of reporting) there were about 29 incidents a day when a wheelchair or scooter were damaged, delayed, lost or stolen. That equates to over 10,000 overall incidents that year.
There is one organization that is trying to change these horrible statistics. All Wheels Up is advocating for wheelchair users to be able to stay in their wheelchairs during flights.
This would lead not only to less damage, but a more comfortable experience. They have done flight simulations and studies to prove that it is safe for a person to stay in their wheelchair during take off, landings and even during a plane crash.
Now they are lobbying for airlines to make changes to their planes by putting in designated wheelchair spaces.
This information about damaged devices is not meant to scare you or prevent you from flying, but rather give you realistic and honest information so that you can make your own decisions when it comes to flying. The fact is, although risks exist, there are also many benefits to flying.
By flying with your mobility scooter or wheelchair, it allows you to see more of the world and opens up additional travel destinations and opportunities. Going to far off places is exciting and exhilarating, and feeds that wanderlust that lives in your soul. Only you can decide if doing that is worth the risk.
If you decide you don’t want to risk damage to your device, you still have a couple of options to fulfill that wanderlust.
Rent mobility equipment
First, you can fly without your mobility scooter or wheelchair and rent equipment at your destination. While this will add to your travel budget, it will ensure that your personal device doesn’t get lost or broken.
Cruise instead of fly
Second, you could choose to cruise to your destination. This works especially well if you live near a port. While destinations may be limited, you could find creative options to combine cruises to avoid flights while still exploring new places.
Lastly, you could focus on domestic travel by doing road trips by camping or staying in hotels and traveling with your own accessible vehicle.
There are many sites to see and places to explore in your own country that can still satisfy your desire to travel. Accessible travel blogs are great places for inspiration and ideas.
Which Airline is the best for handling mobility scooters and wheelchairs?
So, you’ve decided that flying is worth the risk compared to the benefits it offers…great!
Now you are probably wondering which airline to choose and which one is best at handling mobility devices. While the truth is that no airline is perfect, there are some factors to consider when you choose who to fly with.
What is the airline’s track record
As mentioned before, each airline is required to report any time mobility equipment is lost, damaged, delayed, or stolen. These are public records but they require a little work to find.
The US Department of Transportation lists yearly reports that provide these statistics for each airline and they can be found here.
What airlines are near you
You could have the most amazing airline in the world, but if they don’t fly to an airport near you, it may be difficult to fly with them.
Look to see what airlines service the airports in your area (or at least any airports you’d be willing to drive to). This may narrow down the choices you have of who to fly with.
How is the airlines customer service
This may be something you hadn’t considered, but choosing an airline that cares about its customers and is known for their customer service can be crucial if you have any problems with your flight. You want to know that they will work to fix any issues you may encounter, such as missed flights, device damage, lost baggage etc.
Price is always a factor when choosing who to fly with, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Paying a slightly higher price for an airline that has a better record of handling mobility devices, has better customer service, and has available flights in your area may be worth it in the long haul.
It is up to you to prioritize what is important to you as an individual when making this decision.
The number of layovers to get to your destination
Direct flights are nice because they make for shorter travel days and there is less of a chance of damage to your mobility scooter or wheelchair simply because it is handled less often. However, direct flights are often more expensive than those with layovers.
Flights with layovers are more economical but have downsides as well, such as they tend to be more tiring and have more wear and tear on your body, especially when you factor in the time between flights..
Can I take my mobility scooter on a plane recap
It is definitely possible to take your mobility scooter and wheelchair on a plane. While there are several factors to consider and things to know in order to have a successful flight, hopefully this post has answered and addressed many of those concerns you had and has helped to prepare you for your next trip.
The only question you should have is, “where should I go next?!”
About the author: Kristin was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, which impacts her mobility, endurance, and breathing. Despite this challenge she has traveled across the United States and abroad (17 countries and counting) and wants to share her accessible travel information with others through her wheelchair accessible travel blog World on Wheels.
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