Roaming’s husband has been recovering from an injury for several years now and, consequently, his mobility has been restricted. This year is his first traveling since the problem started. In the past, we took for granted the ease of traveling when one could move easily, climb many stairs, and walk far distances.
I’ve been traveling without the love of my life…and that just wouldn’t do, so I researched and planned to provide the great experiences we enjoyed before he was mobility-challenged. I want him to have (close to) the same adventures we used to have…while not taxing his abilities.
Perhaps you have a bum knee, an old injury that restricts you, joint pain, muscle aches, or any one of the host of ailments that can restrict mobility? Maybe you have given up on travel? I’m hoping not. As I’ve been researching trips for our new reality, I haven’t found a lot of information for those who have mobility challenges but don’t fall into traditional categories of needing accessible travel. In the future, I’ll be sharing more of what works for us, but today I want to write about getting around an airport when you have limited mobility.
Here are some tips I’ve created based on our experiences with wheelchair assistance at US carriers. If you need more accessible travel, I highly recommend using airport wheelchair service—it makes flying a lot easier!
- First, request wheelchair assistance from the airline. You can either do this on the airline’s website once you’ve booked your ticket or by phone (some carriers have a dedicated line for accessible travel). Let them know if you need a wheelchair all the way to your seat or just to the gate with you walking onto the plane unassisted.
- Even though you book your wheelchair assistance with the airlines, the wheelchair service is run by the airport. When we arrived for our departures, we found that the distance to where the wheelchairs were located varied at each airport. We were told to check in at our airline to request the chair, but the lines were beastly for both flights (plus I had already check-in online), so I adjusted accordingly. At one airport, they had wheelchairs right by the check-in area, so I just asked to take one. They only asked to see his boarding pass and we were on our way. At another airport, I just went up to an airport worker and asked for assistance and he radioed for one. If flying solo, you may want to ask an airport worker right at the drop-off area that you need wheelchair assistance and cannot walk to the check-in area.
- If you’re traveling with a partner, they can likely transport you. I was allowed every time I asked to push the wheelchair—that way we didn’t have to wait for a wheelchair attendant. If you do use a wheelchair attendant, don’t forget to tip ($3-$5 should do).
- You can see if your airport grants an escort pass if you want to have someone help you navigate the airport who isn’t flying with you.
- There is room under the wheelchair to place a carry-on bag. The wheelchairs are transport chairs though (four small wheels), so they’re not able to be manually moved.
- Make sure you request wheelchair assistance for every leg of your flights, so you’re not stuck at a connection without help. I also recommend calling or checking your passes at check-in to make sure your reservation is still in the system.
- If you want to stop at a restaurant or lounge, you will likely need a travel partner to push your chair. Although wheelchair attendants will stop at a restroom if there is time, they likely won’t be able to drop you off for food. The wheelchair is a transport chair, which means it doesn’t have big wheels for manual propulsion, so you won’t be able to move yourself.
- Check in with the gate agent as soon as possible. They don’t know you are there and that you will need extra time. Generally, the boarding process takes about 30 minutes; if gate agents know they have passengers who need more time they can factor that into their boarding announcements and make sure those who have time get in line first.
- Prepare for delays in service and give yourself extra time to get through security (there might not be a special line) and during layovers—this is especially necessary when you’re flying solo and will need a wheelchair attendant to assist you. There might not be an attendant ready when needed, especially if it’s a busy flight time or there happen to be many people who need wheelchair assistance at the airport.
I hope these findings help you have easier trips in the future. Happy travels!
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