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HOW TO TRAVEL BY AIR WITH A WHEELCHAIR

HOW TO TRAVEL BY AIR WITH A WHEELCHAIR

Normally you can use your own wheelchair as far as the boarding point of the aircraft, where you will transfer to a special aisle chair. If you are able to walk a short distance, you should request a seat near the entrance doors. Your wheelchair will then be stored conveniently for immediate availability on arrival. The airline will probably want to preboard you, so be early at the airport. You, however, have the choice not to preboard.

Wheelchairs fall into three classes:

) normal hand-propelled chairs;
) electric wheelchairs, including scooters, with wet acid batteries;
) electric wheelchairs, including scooters, with dry cell or sealed gel batteries.
Those who have Type 2 wheelchairs should check with the airline, as a leaking battery inflight can be dangerous. It will be necessary for baggage handlers to remove the battery and place it in a special container. This requires the passenger to be at the airport at least 3 hours before departure.
Most modern power-operated wheelchairs have some form of safety battery so that they can be carried without risk of damage to the aircraft. However, it will be necessary for baggage handlers to disconnect the leads from the terminal and to cap them to avoid shorting. This may take some time, so you will have to preboard. It may be necessary to transfer you to a special aisle wheelchair in the air terminal, and there may equally be a delay on arrival before your chair is available.

The airlines are responsible for ensuring that your battery is reconnected and that your chair is working on arrival at your destination. Electric scooters can also be transported without problems; their battery requirements are the same as for wheelchairs.

As a precaution against loss or damage, always remove all detachable parts before your wheelchair is stored, and label the chair with your name and address and destination airport.

So long as your condition is stable, you are entitled to the protection of the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986, and the airline cannot make limiting regulations.
In the event of a problem with airport or inflight personnel, you should require them to contact the Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO), who must always be available and willing to deal with your grievance. They cannot refuse. However, to avoid problems, make sure that you let the airline know your needs as early as possible. Also, make sure you have adequate insurance to cover damage to or loss of your wheelchair or scooter as well as personal injury.

Additional Resources

The following publications are available free from the Federal Government.


Access Travel:

Airports (#580Y) provides details on handicapped facilities and services at 533 airports worldwide. New Horizons for the Air Taveler with a Disability, a 33-page booklet from the Department of Transportation, explains the Air Carriers Access Act regulations that came into effect in March, 1990, as well as the changes resulting from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Topics include accessibility of airports and aircraft; requirements for advance notice, attendants and medical certificates; handling of mobility aids and assistive devices; and much more, including how to file a complaint.
Federal publications are listed in the Consumer Information Catalog and can be ordered from S. James, Consumer Information Center - 2D, P.O. Box 100 Pueblo, CO 81002. A $1.00 service fee is charged, for which one can order up to 25 free booklets.

A growing number of American airlines also publish travel information for handicapped passengers.

America West Airlines has a 6-page booklet entitled Tips for Passengers With Special Needs. For a free copy, call (800) 235-9292 or (800) 526-8077 (TDD).

Northwest Airlines offers a 13-page brochure entitled Air Travel For People With Disabilities. It is available in a standard print format, as well as in Braille with large print and on audio cassette with Braille labeling. For free copies, call (800) 358-3100.