Tips For Long Flights For Wheelchair Users

Whitney Bailey
Content via Simply Emma
Simply Emma
Whitney Bailey

Flying in an airplane for a long period of time can be intimidating for a person with a disability. Emma Muldoon is an avid traveler who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. She shares the following advice on how to survive long-haul flights as a person who uses a wheelchair.

“A long-haul flight as a wheelchair user can be difficult to manage, but that shouldn’t discourage you.”

View from airplane of the airplane's wing and the sky

Before Boarding

Special Assistance

Split picture of Emma being escorted to the plane and then her in the Eagle lift being transferred into the seat

Emma suggests when booking your flight to request any special assistance at least 48 hours in advance. Special assistance can include help navigating the airport to boarding the plane. If you’re in the United Kingdom Emma recommends checking out to see if the airport has an Eagle Lifter. Make sure you are allocated suitable seats that meet your accessibility needs. “The airline should allocate a suitable seat for you and your travel companion free of charge. These seats should generally have movable armrests to make transferring easier,” says Emma.

Wear Comfy Clothes

Emma says to make sure to wear comfy clothes since you will be on the flight for a long period of time and it may be hard to adjust. Flights can be cold, so you may want to bring a blanket. Emma jokes that she always tempted to bring her slippers when flying.


“There are so many essential things that (people with disabilities) just can’t travel without. It’s important to pack sensibly and have everything in its right place,” says Emma. It’s important to plan what items can be put in your hold luggage and what items you need to carry on the plane with you. Emma suggests knowing where everything is placed in your carry on bag as there is not a lot of space on flights and it will make it easier to find items.

Relax Before Flight

“I’m a firm believer that stress can play havoc with our bodies and lead to feeling unwell and other unnecessary problems,” says Emma. To avoid being stressed at the airport, Emma advises arriving at the airport early to give you plenty of time before you board. She says to enjoy a nice meal and browse the shops as you wait, but be sure not to miss your flight!

During Flight

Bring Wheelchair Cushion On Flight

Emma states to bring your wheelchair cushion on the flight with you to avoid pressure sore because airplane seats can be uncomfortable especially if you cannot change positions easily.

Try To Sleep During Flight

Emma lists some items that might help you sleep during your flight such as a travel pillow, eye masks, blanket, and/or noise canceling headphones or earplugs. She lists some benefits of each item in her original post.

Wear Travel Socks

Emma states that being immobile for long periods of time can increase risks of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis. To combat the risk Emma chooses to wear travel socks that increase blood flow which prevents fluid build up that can occur in the ankle and legs. Emma takes aspirin before boarding her flight. Consult your doctor before taking medication.

Stay Healthy

There is a higher chance of becoming sick when flying because it is difficult for our bodies to fight off normal bacteria and viruses after being up in the air. Some people with disabilities have a more difficult time recovering from being sick. Emma suggests taking precautions and bringing antibacterial wipes and hand gel onto the plane with you.

Stay Hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated during long-haul flights. However, Emma admits that she does limit her fluid intake while flying because it is difficult to go to the bathroom while on the plane. But, there should be an aisle chair on the plane and staff can assist you to the bathroom.

“The downside to staying hydrated is needing to use the aircraft’s toilet, which can be a challenge (nightmare) for wheelchair users or someone with limited mobility.”

Be Productive And Entertained

Emma says to divide your time up while on the plane so that you are both productive and entertained. Make sure to charge up your devices. “Eating, sleeping, movie-watching, working on your laptop, reading, playing games, listening to music, writing etc. You’ll be surprised by how much time flies by when you are focussed on one task at a time.”

Be sure to check out Emma's original post!

Share these tips with someone who is planning a flight!

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