John Morris knows a thing or two about traveling with a power wheelchair. He’s taken more than 300 flights (with his chair in tow) in the US and abroad.
Tips to prevent damage to your power wheelchair:
Research. Power wheelchairs are stowed in the cargo area of a plane during the flight. Cargo area dimensions vary by airplane type. John has created a list of airplane cargo hold dimensions that he suggests consulting before booking your next flight. You will also need to know the dimensions of your chair, particularly when the back is folded down to make it as compact as possible. “Power wheelchairs should not be transported on their sides, as the risk of damage becomes significantly greater,” writes John. So knowing your chair’s dimensions along with the dimensions of the cargo hold will ensure that your chair will fit upright during the flight.
Develop a Plan for Collapsing Your Chair. If your chair will need to be collapsed or the back folded down in order to be properly stowed, it’s best to develop a way this can be done quickly and efficiently. “Bring the tools necessary and instruct the airline how to handle the disassembly,” suggests John. The airline is required to assist with this task according to the Air Carrier Access Act. If you travel frequently, like John, you might want to heed his advice and develop a quick collapse system on your chair if you can. John worked with a local wheelchair repair shop to install a pin that when removed will allow his chair back to easily collapse.
Understand Coverage in Case of Damage. “Airlines operating to, from or within the United States are completely liable for damage to your wheelchair,” explains John. This is covered under the Air Carrier Access Act. John says it is important to remember that damage to power chairs where they are rendered completely useless is very rare. Only once has John experienced this type of damage in his travels. “It was written off as a “total loss” and the airline responsible (Delta) quickly started the process of ordering a brand-new replacement,” he shares.
Communicate with the Airline. Call the airline prior to your flight and go over specific details on how your chair must be handled. Include information such as your chair’s dimensions (including the weight – power chairs are heavy and often require 4 adults to properly and safely load them into the cargo area), whether it will need to be collapsed, and any other details on special handling. You may want to consider including written instructions that are attached to your chair. “At the end of the day,” shares John, “a wheelchair is baggage, and instructions on its care must come from you, the traveler.”
In addition to these tips, John has created a video montage of airline crew members loading his power chair into the cargo area of various airplanes:
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