Traveling with Your Lightweight Wheelchair: Tips for a Safe Journey

Jul 26, 2023Mindy Drexler

Summer is a fantastic time for wheelchair users to enjoy unforgettable trips, whether it's visiting loved ones around the country or exploring exotic destinations. However, these journeys may come with certain risks, especially when it comes to air travel. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), mishandling of wheelchairs and scooters is not uncommon, with around 1.47 out of every 100 mobility devices arriving damaged. Additionally, airports can present accessibility challenges, making the travel experience uncomfortable and unsafe for wheelchair and transport chair users. 

In this article, we offer valuable tips and guidance to help you reduce the odds of issues or damage while traveling with your lightweight wheelchair or transport chair. By taking proactive measures and knowing your rights, you can ensure a smoother and more enjoyable travel experience. 

Call and Plan Ahead

Right after booking your flight, reach out to TSA Cares, the Transport Security Administration's passenger support program. They are equipped to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions, providing support and addressing screening concerns related to wheelchairs, transport chairs, and medical supplies. While you should also contact the airline directly, some airlines may have specialized disability service divisions to better cater to your needs. Be prepared to provide relevant details about your mobility device to ensure proper accommodation. 

Consider Wheelchair Accessories

Traveling can be less stressful and more convenient with the right wheelchair accessories. Backpacks or bag attachments can serve as personal items or storage for essential travel items. For transport chair users who occasionally use a cane, a holder can attach the mobility devices together for easy handling. Mobility seatbelt accessories can add an extra sense of security during airport transit, while wheelchair cushions can enhance comfort during flights. 

Pack Accordingly

Frequent flyers recommend preparing an emergency repair kit that includes tools and a wheelchair guide, in case of minor damages during the journey. While maintenance or repairs are best left to licensed professionals, having these items can be useful in emergencies. Keep the kit compact and carry it in your carry-on or personal item. 

Prepare Your Mobility Device for Storage

If your lightweight wheelchair or transport chair will be stored in the cargo hold, remove accessories like backpacks, cupholders, cushions, tray tables, and oxygen attachments. Store these items separately to avoid loss or damage. For electric or heavier manual wheelchairs, consider attaching clear operation directions or a manual and reinforcing the device with packaging. For foldable lightweight wheelchairs, consider using wheelchair bags for added protection and easy carrying. 

Know Your Rights: The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

Take the time to read and understand the Air Carrier Access Act, a law that protects passengers with disabilities from discrimination by airlines. The ACAA requires airlines to provide various forms of assistance, including boarding, deplaning, and connecting assistance, as well as accommodation that meets disability-related needs. Familiarizing yourself with your rights will ensure fair treatment and safety throughout your journey. 

Inspect for and Report Damages

Upon arrival, inspect your wheelchair or transport chair for damages before leaving the airport. If you notice any issues, report them to airport staff and file a complaint with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO) at the baggage claim area. Additionally, consider filing an official complaint online with the Department of Transportation to ensure proper resolution. 

By following these tips and understanding your rights, you can make your travel experience more enjoyable and stress-free, with your lightweight wheelchair or transport chair well-protected throughout the journey.

Happy travels! 

Author: Zach Smith
Strongback Mobility Lifestyle Writer



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