Storing and Checking Your Chair
Airlines and seasoned travelers with wheelchairs make the following recommendations for all mobility and medical devices:
- Be sure your equipment is clearly labeled with your name, address and phone number.
- Write down the make, model, serial number, and note any normal wear and tear. Take pictures as documentation.
- Write down any safe-handling and disassembly instructions and attach them to your device. This should include how to turn the power on/off, how to set and unset free wheel mode, and where the chair can be lifted. Include your phone number in case there are any questions from the baggage handlers about moving and storing. It is safest if you can turn off the master breaker to prevent airline personnel from driving your chair. You may need to consult your owner’s manual for the wheelchair or your durable medical equipment company.
- Before you surrender your equipment, remove as many attachments as possible that could become lost or damaged. This includes, but is not limited to, joystick, headrest, footplates, seat cushions, cupholders, foot and armrests, side guards, bags, tray tables, oxygen attachments. If tools are required bring them with you. All of this can be stored on the aircraft and does not count against your baggage limit. Bring storage bags for the parts.
- If possible, wrap protective cushioning material around any parts on your wheel chair that could be easily damaged such as armrests and backrests.
- Check with the gate agent to get a gate delivery tag and attach it to your equipment before boarding.
- When you arrive at your final destination, look over your equipment to make sure it’s in good and working condition before leaving the airport.
- Notify the gate agent or baggage service office if you notice any damage.
Flying with a manual chair
If you are traveling with a manual wheelchair, it can likely be stored in the aircraft cabin. You will get priority stowage space for the wheelchair in an aircraft with 100 or more seats. You will want to contact the airline for the size of the wheelchair storage area to make sure the manual wheelchair will fit. If the manual wheelchair won’t fit, then it will need to be checked and placed in the hold.
Flying with a power chair
In addition to the general recommendations above, there are two special considerations with a powerchair – the size of your chair and any special requirements for the batteries. You need to know the size of your chair so that you can determine if it will fit through the cargo doors on the airplane. Click here for a partial list of aircraft types and the dimensions of their cargo doors. If your wheelchair backrest needs to be folded to fit in the hold, bring all the necessary tools needed for disassembly and reassembly. Unfortunately, if your chair will not fit in an upright position, they will store it on its side and this can easily result in damage. The best solution is to know this in advance and choose to travel on an aircraft that has large enough cargo doors to avoid this.
You need to be aware of the regulations surrounding battery powered mobility aids such as power wheelchairs and scooters. These next bullets come directly from The Air Carrier Access Act. Although the language is quite technical, it is the necessary information for you to know before you go to the airport.
- If the battery on the passenger’s wheelchair or other similar mobility device has been labeled by the manufacturer as non-spillable as provided in 49 CFR 173.159(d)(2), or if a battery-powered wheelchair with a spillable battery can be loaded, stored, secured and unloaded in an upright position, you must not require the battery to be removed and separately packaged. Notwithstanding this requirement, you must remove and package separately any battery that is inadequately secured to a wheelchair or, for a spillable battery, is contained in a wheelchair that cannot be loaded, stowed, secured and unloaded in an upright position, in accordance with 49 CFR 175.10(a)(15) and (16). Please note that a damaged or leaking battery should not be transported.
- When it is necessary to detach the battery from the wheelchair, you must, upon request, provide packaging for the battery meeting the requirements of 49 CFR 175.10(a)(15) and (16) and package the battery. You may refuse to use packaging materials or devices other than those you normally use for this purpose.
- You must not disconnect the battery on wheelchairs or other mobility devices equipped with a non-spillable battery completely enclosed within a case or compartment integral to the design of the device unless an FAA or PHMSA safety regulation, or an applicable foreign safety regulation having mandatory legal effect, requires you to do so.
Thank you to the author of this webpage, Jacob Gapko. Jacob is 45 years old with Duchenne. He uses a power wheelchair and non-invasive ventilation 24/7. He has a BS, an MLIS, and is a specialist. Jacob has an incredible passion for helping our DMD community. He can be reached at Jacob.Gapko@FamilyFriendsAndDuchenne.org