Travel, by nature, is complicated. Hours of research, days of preparation and countless hours of planning go into each trip, especially if your adventure is an international one. Factor in traveling with a wheelchair and your trip just got a lot more complex. But no need to worry, that’s why you have us! With just a little extra research, some careful planning and these easy tips, you can definitely still have a stress-free sojourn. Here’s everything you need to know about traveling with a wheelchair.

Air Travel

Did you know that most aircraft have wheelchair closets on board to store your manual wheelchair? Believe it or not, as daunting as traveling with a disability seems, there are plenty of ways to ensure smooth sailing…or well, in this case, smooth flying. Here are some tips on air travel with a wheelchair:

traveling through airport with wheelchair

Once you’ve booked your ticket, contact the airlines immediately.

Inform them well ahead of time that you will need extra assistance through check-in, security, with boarding the plane, at baggage claim and any other instances you can think/know of where you’ll require some help.

Check the airport’s rules about using your own wheelchair.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) you’re also entitled to stay in your own wheelchair up to your gate, but only if it has non-spillable batteries. If you don’t have non-spillable batteries, depending on the airport you’re flying to or out of, you may still be able to use it all the way to your gate until boarding. In this case, airlines will usually also give you your wheelchair back at the jetway post-landing.

Be prepared for the security check.

If you or your child are unable to walk through the metal detectors, airport security is likely to pat you down for screening instead. Remember that your wheelchair will also be screened and inspected, so to speed up the process make sure to take off the removable parts and avoid wearing any metal if you can, and don’t forget to inform the TSA agent if you have any sore or tender body spots before the screening (you’re also entitled to a private screening with a companion of your choice in the room). Parents: if your child has a disability and is under the age of 12, you’re allowed to carry her/him through the metal detectors. Oh — and feel free to rock some toeless sandals and forget the socks, because you don’t need to take off your shoes

Choose your seat ahead of time, even if it costs a little extra.

While airlines always have special seats reserved for travelers with disabilities, there are actually certain seats that are even better than others. The first row in any section of the plane usually has armrests that do not move, which might make it difficult to get into your seat. Try booking a place in the second row, it might be both more comfortable and easier to sit in. No seats available in the second row? No problem. Try to scope out the seating layout and book a seat with more leg room. Even if it’s in the first row, you’ll still have an easier time getting into your seat.

When choosing a seat, always go aisle.

…especially on longer flights! This one is pretty self-explanatory, but do yourself a favor and pick a seat that’s going to be easier for you to get in and out of at your leisure.

Attach a list of instructions on how to assemble/disassemble your wheelchair.

Sometimes, if your wheelchair is too big,  flight attendants or airfreight handlers will take it apart to make it fit. Although they are 100% responsible for covering the cost of repairs or the cost of replacing it if damaged or destroyed, it’s in both your own and the airline’s benefit to get it back to you safe and sound (who wants the hassle of going without your precious wheeled-cargo for that long in a temporary one?!) Instructions would make it easier on whoever the potential disassembler is and can be the key to having your wheelchair returned, damage-free.

When nature calls, have a game plan.

Most aircraft carry an on-board aisle transfer chair, which is a common assistance device utilized to help individuals with mobility limitations to more easily board and move within airplanes. To ensure that the bathroom is big enough to accommodate both you and the aisle chair, the one used during flights is often smaller than the one you may have used to be transferred to your seat, so that’s the first thing you should prepare for. The second: although flight attendants can assist you to the lavatories, they are not allowed to enter with you. If you don’t think you can transfer yourself from the chair onto the toilet (and you don’t think you can hold it) you’ll need to plan accordingly and travel with someone who can, like a companion, family member or personal care aide.  

Hotel Information

Book directly.

When booking a hotel room, it’s easiest to call the hotel directly and ask if they have accessible rooms available. Hotels have a limited number of these rooms, so if you don’t know what kind of room you’re booking ahead of time, they may not have a room to accommodate your needs once you’re there.

Even if you’ve booked an accessible room, ask about what amenities it has.

If you need certain medical equipment, such as shower chairs or Hoyer lifts, be sure to check that the hotel has them. Many hotels often only keep the bare necessities when it comes to amenities for guests with disabilities, so if they do not, you will need to bring your own or rent them at your destination.

Know your rights.

In the U.S., under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA ), if the room you are given is not what you specifically booked, the hotel is required to provide you with the room you need or pay and arrange for you to stay in a different hotel that has the room you require. Also under the ADA, hotels must provide the same services and amenities to every guest, regardless of their abilities, this includes shuttle buses that can accommodate people with disabilities, and if they cannot, a service of the same quality must be made available as well as lifts or ramps on pools to provide access for wheelchair users.

Important Things to Remember.

– If you have any pre-trip questions or concerns about the security screening process, give the TSA Cares Hotline a call at (855) 787-2227, at least 72 hours prior to your flight.

– Many foreign countries have different power voltages in their outlets. The US has 120V outlets, so it might be necessary to purchase a voltage converter or a voltage transformer to avoid damaging the battery of your power wheelchair.

– You can rent a car with hand controls from any major rental car agency in the US! If you’re looking to rent abroad, do some thorough research to see what options they have available, and remember — in many other countries the driver’s seat is on the right-hand side!


Have any tips for traveling with a wheelchair? Go ahead and tell us below in the comments section!

About The Author

In a past life, Tasmiah was either a Bollywood actress, renowned ethnographer or master chef; no questions asked. In this one, she is a shower-singing, croissant enthusiast, who also writes content for Fareportal, in that order.