Wheelchair User's Flight Rights

Curated by
Whitney Bailey
Content via Live Quickie Blog
Live Quickie Blog
Curated by
Whitney Bailey

Are you a wheelchair user who is planning a trip where you have to fly? Well, if you’ve done your research, you’ve probably come across some horror stories involving wheelchairs and airplanes. However, our friends at Sunrise Medical and Curb Free With Cory Lee have partnered together to educate wheelchair users on their rights regarding the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Cory Lee, a power wheelchair user, discusses the general components of the ACAA and highlights where the Act protects a person’s rights. He also gives tips on how to ensure your rights are met and how to dissolve issues if they arise during the process of flying. 

hand gripping wheelchair tire with plane in background

“As a wheelchair user, you have rights throughout the flying process and it's important that you receive the assistance you need.”

Air Carrier Access Act

Cory states, “The Air Carrier Access Act protects the rights of those with a disability from being discriminated against during air travel. This act applies to all United States flights, both those originating in the United States and those landing on U.S. soil.” 

There are several components of the Act and it is important that an individual understands each one, in order to make sure their rights are supported.

“Generally speaking, this Act prohibits people with a disability from being refused service because of their disability, their specific needs, or accommodations.”

The ACAA also protects a person’s rights to accessibility while flying on the airplane. “Airplane accessibility is specific to how large each aircraft is, but generally you cannot be denied access to the bathroom with use of an on-board wheelchair, denied access to a specific seat that allows you to transfer to and from an on-board wheelchair, or denied assistance with baggage and seating throughout the process,” says Cory.

To view the ACAA in its original terms click here.

Booking Flight

“Many people prefer to book a flight online, but this can be less accommodating, as many sites don't offer seat details that could make booking easier for wheelchair users,” says Cory. He suggests making a phone call to book a flight to ensure you speak to an actual person about accommodations. 

Cory states, “The ACAA supports the following rights:

  • You cannot be refused a flight based on your disability
  • You cannot be denied a flight due to other passengers with disabilities already booked on the same flight
  • The airline cannot require a person with a disability to fly with another person unless that person is required per safety regulations. If required, they cannot charge to transport the additional person.”


Before getting on the plane, Cory advises to speak to a representative at the gate to let them know you need priority boarding because of your disability. “Speaking with someone as soon as you arrive at the gate is the fastest way to ensure you are boarded early in the process,” he says.

Cory states, “The ACAA supports the following rights:

  • You have the right to board first
  • You have the right to assistance during the pre-boarding process.”

Assistance with pre-boarding includes boarding the plane, finding your seat, and stowing your bags. They also offer physical assistance with transfers, and aisle wheelchairs for mobility on the plane (being able to go to the bathroom.) 

Checked and Carry-on Luggage

“As a wheelchair user, you have the right to carry on any medical necessities without restriction. Each carry-on must contain necessities, like medication or supplies. The airline must also grant you priority in storage, both in the cabin and within the plane,” says Cory.

Cory suggests calling ahead to discuss your needs, what kind of baggage you have, and ensure you will not be charged an additional cost.

Cory states, “The ACAA supports the following rights:

  • You have the right to carry on necessities - Assistive devices cannot be limited to a number of carry-on items
  • You have the right to space in the cabin for your baggage - Collapsible wheelchairs and other medical devices have priority storage in the cabin
  • Baggage has priority storage in the baggage compartments.”

Seating During Flight

“Airlines are required to have seats with removable armrests to allow you to transfer to and from a wheelchair, and some aircraft are required to have accessible lavatories. They must provide an on-board wheelchair to give you access during the flight,” says Cory.

Cory suggests calling the airline before your flight to confirm your seat assignment and that it fits your needs. He writes, “An ideal seat assignment for someone who uses a wheelchair is usually an aisle seat with a removable armrest, which makes it easier to transfer to an aisle wheelchair.”

Cory advises having a copy of the ACAA available when talking with a representative because they may not be up to date on seating accommodations. 

Cory states, “The ACAA supports the following rights:

  • The right to change seats if there is a better option that fulfills your needs
  • The right to have an on-board wheelchair to access the lavatory
  • The right to assistance throughout the flight.”


“When your flight has arrived at its destination, the airline is required to deliver your wheelchair to the plane's door. This is one of the trickiest rights to uphold, as many airlines will tell you to pick up your wheelchair at baggage claim. You are allowed to request your wheelchair be delivered, but remember to be patient and clear with your request,” says Cory.

To ensure your rights are met, Cory suggests speaking to a flight attendant when on the plane to make sure your needs are known and can be met when you land. It’s important to note that you may be one of the last passengers to exit the plane to give the gate enough time to fulfill your request and to make sure there is enough staff free to adequately assist. 

Cory states, “The ACAA supports the following rights:

  • The right to have your personal mobility device delivered to the plane's door on arrival
  • The right to assistance getting off the plane
  • The right to assistance for making a connection or transportation to baggage claim.”

Remember to formally request these accommodations weeks in advance to make sure that your rights are upheld.

Share this post with someone who is planning a trip!


Thanks to Sunrise/Live Quickie for being a sponsor of AbleThrive.com!

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