Independence and Airline Travel

Travel Tips for Wheelchair Users.

While traveling can be exciting and a lot of of fun, it’s not always the smoothest process. Add a wheelchair into the mix and you’re sure to have at least an occasional challenge or two. However, with a little preparation and some experience it becomes easier, and hey, you can even enjoy a few perks. Here are some tips for wheelchair-users traveling independently on airplanes.

Be prepared.

While this may seem like common sense, be sure to be prepared before you head to the airport. First, give yourself plenty of time for any unexpected delays, especially if you’re parking and leaving your car. If you’re not familiar with the airport, do a little research and see if there are shuttles from parking or anything else that may be useful to know. Either when making the reservation or at check-in, you’ll need to let the airline know that you use a wheelchair and if you’re not able to walk on to the plane, indicate that you’ll need an “aisle chair.”

With luggage, less is more.

Managing luggage in a wheelchair is all about being creative and having the right bags. The best option is a duffle-type bag or backpack that can either go in your lap or on your back. However, if a small bag won’t cut it, a suitcase with four wheels is the next best bet.

Have patience at the security checkpoint.

If you’re modest, you’re not going to be a big fan of the airline security process. Since those of us in wheelchairs are not able to go through the metal detectors, we get the old “pat-down.” After dropping your carry-on items on the x-ray belt, you’ll be ushered through a little gate, where a TSA agent (of your same gender) will check you and your wheelchair by hand. It’s important to remember that you are your best advocate and if at any point you feel uncomfortable, you should calmly let someone know that.

A tip? Look for a special entrance when going through security because most airports allow wheelchairs to bypass the long line.

Communicate your needs.

No one knows what kind of assistance you need unless you tell them. They also may not realize that they may do more harm than good if they try to assist you when you don’t need it.

It’s always a good idea to make yourself known when you arrive at the gate, too. They’ll want you to stay close as wheelchair passengers board first, and they’ll also need to put a gate-check tag on your chair. When boarding the plane, be sure to double-check your wheelchair! Remember to pull off any loose parts that could get lost, like a seat, armrests or a bag, and communicate any special care that needs to be taken.

All in all, traveling can be a great experience, regardless of whether or not you use a wheelchair. After a few flights, it’s a piece of cake. When in doubt, ask for help and keep in mind that a smile goes a long way.

Best of luck!
Kristina Rhoades-Kristina Rhoades

Want more information? Click to get a summary of the Air Carrier Access Act and learn your rights. Kristina enjoys traveling around the world representing Mobility Ventures. For all of Kristina's travel tips blog visit

(Kristina enjoys traveling as part of the MV-1 team and with her husband and young daughter)