Airline Reservations: Why It’s an Important Access Planning Step

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paraplegic woman in manual wheelchair

Ashley Lyn Olson is an expert accessible traveler. She has traveled all around the world with her manual wheelchair, sometimes alone and with other wheelchair users. Reservations are not required, but when it comes to air travel, making one with access requirements noted will improve your experience and better the system all together because mistakes combined with the unknown creates unwanted obstacles. Some people and companies have more experience than others so it’s best not to assume anything. Educating people along the way opposed to scolding, whether needed or not, enhances protocol for future travels.

If flying with a wheelchair or physical disability, more information is good thing:

Medical Equipment: When you travel with medical equipment, like a wheelchair or oxygen tank, it’s best to let the airline know in advance. There may be some protocols you need to follow in terms of handling the equipment. For example, how to store batteries correctly or protecting equipment as best as possible from damage.

Boarding the Plane: At any given airport there are a limited number of aisle chairs to board a plane if you cannot walk from the door to your seat. Without advanced notice, there could be a last minute scramble to locate one creating delays and preventing you from boarding the plane first. International law gets a little tricky but again, more information the better. When you make your reservation inform the airline if you need this to get on and off the plane, and when you arrive at the airport be sure to check with the desk staff that this procedure is in place.

Transfer Assistance: If you cannot transfer yourself from the wheelchair to the aisle chair to board the plane then you need to opt-in for transfer assistance. This service is best experienced if the airline has advance notice. This way, you will receive staff that have been properly trained to assist people with transfers, though accidents are still possible.

Seating: A lot of people want the window seat but for those who cannot stand and must transfer, the aisle seat is the best selection. Close to the door or bathroom is also an access strategy; often these are more expensive seats but is sometimes waived for access cases. Most aisle chairs on US aircrafts are required to have the armrest to be retractable or adjustable, but this is not always the case nor are airline attendants always knowledgeable about how to accomplish this. Do what you can to note these needs in advance.

Bathroom Access: During the flight, if you need to use the bathroom but cannot walk then you need an on-board aisle chair. Some airlines have this automatically as a permanent part of the aircraft while others have one only on a request basis, so it’s important to note that you need an on-board aisle chair when making the reservation and upon arrival at the airport. Often, airline desk staff are not well-informed about the on-board aisle chair but the on-flight crew certainly should know. It’s important to know that the on-board crew cannot assist you in the transfer to the on-board aisle chair at any time.

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