On board the aircraft, the airline is responsible for you as a passenger, and every airline has special rules for each aircraft type. Usually, the larger the aircraft, the better access there is for people with reduced mobility. Small aircraft also have very limited cargo space, so it is difficult to get space for wheelchairs, especially electric wheelchairs.
Do you have a functional impairment that entails reduced mobility and means that you need assistance at meal times and to use the lavatory? Then most airlines want you to travel accompanied by a personal assistant who can help you during your journey. Read more about this below.
If you use a wheelchair, it is a good idea to choose a bag for your hand baggage that fits in your lap since a personal assistant or the assisting airport attendant may have difficulty carrying your hand baggage and pushing the wheelchair at the same time.
Need for assistance at meal times and for lavatory visits
If you need assistance at meal times, to visit the lavatory or to move, you must travel with a personal assistant. The lavatories on board the aircraft are often small, and it is not possible for the cabin crew to lift the passenger or provide help in the lavatory.
If you can get out of the wheelchair on board the aircraft and into your seat or onto the toilet, an airport attendant and then cabin crew can assist you in getting to and from the lavatory, but they will not assist you once you are in the lavatory.
Check with your airline well in advance before your departure to see what rules apply for personal assistants on board.
It is important that you mention that you use a wheelchair when you book your flight. It is a good idea to describe what you need assistance with in conjunction with the flight, for instance, moving from the wheelchair to your seat on board the aircraft. You also need to provide clear information to staff at the airport about whether your wheelchair can be dismantled and reassembled.
The rules vary somewhat depending on what kind of wheelchair you use, which means that you may need to prepare for your trip in different ways. For instance, not all kinds of electric wheelchairs are permitted in the aircraft’s baggage hold.
You cannot take your private wheelchair on board the aircraft but instead must always store it in the baggage hold. Read more about this under the headings “Manual wheelchair” and “Electric or battery-powered wheelchair.
There is no additional cost for taking your wheelchair on the flight, and you do not need to include the weight of the wheelchair in your total baggage allowance. On longer flights, there should be a special wheelchair on board the aircraft, but for safety’s sake check with the airline ahead of time to ensure that one is available.
If you have a manual wheelchair, it can often be used all the way to the door of the aircraft. But on some aircraft you must leave your private wheelchair at check-in and instead borrow one that belongs to the airport.
To reduce the risk of damage to your wheelchair, you can remove all loose parts prior to check-in and, for instance, put them in your hand baggage. This applies, for instance, to different kinds of metal fasteners or the wheelchair cushion, which risks getting wet in the baggage hold.
Electric or battery-powered wheelchair
If you use an electric or battery-powered wheelchair, you must check it in with your baggage. Once this is done, you may borrow a wheelchair that belongs to the airport.
For safety reasons, not all kinds of electric and battery-powered wheelchairs may be loaded on an aircraft; only electric wheelchairs with so-called dry cell batteries or gel batteries are permitted. So when you first book, you must say what kind of battery your electric wheelchair has. You must also provide the dimensions and weight of your electric wheelchair when you book. Sometimes you may also have to provide the dimensions, weight and type of battery at check-in – so bring that information if this could be needed. If the wheelchair is being sent as cargo, it must be possible to disconnect the battery cables so that the electric circuit cannot be completed. Approved batteries can be left in the wheelchair.
Write down the weight, dimensions and type of battery ahead of time and take that with you.
- Dry cell batteries
- Gel batteries
Batteries not permitted on board:
- Water cell batteries (can be sent to the passenger’s destination ahead of time as cargo)
- Lithium batteries
Contact the airport in advance and check to see if you can send your batteries as cargo, and how that can be done. If you need to know more about batteries and cables for your own electric wheelchair, you can contact the company that manufactured it.
Boarding and de-planing with a wheelchair
Equipment for boarding and de-planing for people with reduced mobility varies from airport to airport. Some airports have built-in passageways for boarding and de-planing which take you straight to the aircraft. Sometimes the passageway is on a slope, depending on the height of the aircraft.
If there is no built-in passageway from the door of the aircraft, the airline uses movable stairs that go from the aircraft door down to the ground. If your airline uses steps that do not have a mechanical lift, a vehicle that can be raised and lowered will transport you do the ground. If this type of vehicle is also not available, you will be seated in a special chair and airport attendants will help you down the steps.
If you use a regular wheelchair, you may move from the wheelchair used on board the aircraft to your own manual wheelchair once you go through the door of the aircraft. You should be able to provide clear information about how your wheelchair is reassembled.
If you use an electric wheelchair, you usually use the airport’s manual loaner wheelchair at the door of the aircraft before you get your private electric wheelchair together with your baggage.
It is a good idea to remove loose parts from your wheelchair.
Staff at the airport look after your wheelchair when they place it in the cargo hold and when they unload it. But sometimes, for instance, wheelchairs and baggage still get damaged. To reduce the risk of damage, you can remove all loose parts from your wheelchair before checking it in.
Suggestion: place the loose parts in a small bag that you take on board the aircraft. This applies, for instance, to different kinds of fasteners or the wheelchair cushion, which otherwise risks getting wet in the baggage handling process.
If your wheelchair is damaged or lost
If one of your mobility aids, for instance, your wheelchair, is damaged or lost during the flight, the airline is responsible for temporarily replacing this with another mobility aid. However, these aids are not always completely identical to the ones you were using.
If you have a walker, you should show it when you check in so that it gets a baggage tag, you can then use the walker at the airport all the way to the gate. Staff will then take care of the walker and place it in the baggage hold.
If you use a walker, you can also book special assistance, which involves the help of an airport attendant. Special assistance can be available from the time you arrive at the airport and all the way onto the aircraft. But you can also book special assistance just from the gate to your seat on the plane if you want.