Air Travel for Wheelchair Users During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Air Travel for Wheelchair Users During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Passengers with disabilities file more than 30,000 complaints every year with airliners. More than 700 mobility devices become damaged, with some that need to be replaced.

Few wheelchair users fly commercially. Even fewer are willing to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, flying can be essential, and you may need to board an airplane for one reason or another.

Air travel for wheelchair users doesn’t have to be a nightmare. The challenges wheelchair users face can be reduced with a few basic actions. Here is a quick guide.

The Laws Regarding Air Travel for Wheelchair Users

There are a few misunderstandings about the law. Many people assume that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers air travel.

The ADA actually covers the accessibility of airports. Airports must provide accessible paths between gates and boarding areas. Ground transportation must be accessible, with boarding assistance available for small aircraft.

A different law covers accessibility on airplanes. That law is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

The ACAA mandates that airlines provide passengers with assistance. Passengers must receive seating accommodations and help with loading their bags and devices. If your wheelchair fits, you are allowed to bring your wheelchair onto the plane.

If your belongings get damaged, the airline must compensate you in full. Every airline must have a Complaints Resolutions Official who is an expert on accommodation for wheelchair users. You can consult with them at any point and at no cost.

Before You Travel

When you book your flight, indicate that you are a wheelchair user. Call the airline directly and ask for their Complaints Resolutions Official. Ask them what you should do before and during your travel.

Do your research about quarantine policies when you arrive and when you return home. Most states require you to quarantine for 14 days when you arrive there. Be willing to get tested for COVID as well.

If you have been in close contact with people you don’t live with, don’t travel. Wait for a couple of weeks to show you did not catch COVID.

Do not travel with anyone you don’t live with. Keep your party size small to reduce your risk of getting sick.

Plan out your flight and your ground transportation. Avoid public transportation like trains and buses. Drive yourself whenever possible or take a car with one driver and roll the windows down.

Packing to Travel

Pick a lightweight manual wheelchair. Make sure you can fold it and store it in an overhead compartment.

Bring foam padding and a soft cushion. It can be uncomfortable to sit in an airplane seat, even for a short flight. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes as well.

Wear a mask with two layers of washable and breathable fabric. The mask should cover your nose and mouth entirely.

It should fit against the sides of your face without any gaps. If you have to readjust your mask, you should pick a different one. Avoid touching your face as much as possible.

Bring extra masks with you in case you lose one. All of your masks should have the above qualities.

The TSA allows one hand sanitizer container of up to 12 ounces. Bring it in your carry-on in a clear plastic bag. Pack additional containers in your checked bags.

You can also pack wet wipes, gloves, and tissues. Store them in the front pocket of your carry-on.

Pack as light as you can. Use a colorful suitcase so you can spot it easily at baggage claim.

At the Airport

Call the airport in advance and tell them if you need a wheelchair or other accommodations. Be as specific as possible.

Ask for help when you need it. Many airport employees are trained to help passengers with disabilities.

You do not have to get out of your wheelchair for airport security. If you can pass through without setting off a metal detector, you can do so.

If you cannot, the TSA provides a pat-down. You can request a private screening, even if the officer does not touch sensitive areas.

You can inform the officer of difficulties you have moving or being touched. You do not have to remove or lift clothing that covers a sensitive area.

An officer will inspect your wheelchair for explosives. They will test the seat cushions and any non-removable pouches. This may take a little time, so be prepared to wait.

Once you’re through security, head to your gate. Tell the attendants there about the accommodations you may need while boarding. Remain close to the gate, but socially distance yourself from passengers.

Keep your mask on at all times within the airport. If you touch objects, rub your hands with your hand sanitizer. Avoid eating and drinking if possible.

When it is time to board, the airliner may ask you to move onto an aisle seat. This is a small wheelchair that lets you board the plane and get into your seat.

An attendant will take your wheelchair and store it for you. When you need to deplane, the attendant will return you to the aisle seat. They will give your wheelchair back at that point.

More Tips for Wheelchair Users

Air travel for wheelchair users doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Know what you need to do before and during your travel so you can have a great experience.

Talk to your airline’s Complaints Resolution Official before booking your flight. Research COVID containment policies and be prepared to change your flight around. Bring a manual wheelchair and pack several tight-fitting masks.

You can remain in your wheelchair during TSA security. Head to your gate and ask for an aisle seat so you can board the aircraft.

Get the tools you need to live your life. Freedom Mobility Center, Inc. is among the leading wheelchair service providers in four states. Contact us today.