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Air Travel with Disabled Person
Old 06-17-2017, 05:38 AM   #1
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Air Travel with Disabled Person

Hi folks. As always, this forum is my first stop for knowledgeable answers.

Despite my 30+ years as a road warrior I'm entering a new realm of air travel with a disabled person; something I never really paid that much attention to before.

What are the mechanics of all this?

My brother can walk with a cane but it's very slow and he can't go long distances through an airport. He's fairly mobile but everything just takes a long time...slow motion.

So: I'd assume we'd arrive at the check-in desk in his own wheelchair.

Do we check the wheelchair at check-in and does a porter then take him in another chair through security or does he keep his chair through security and check it at the gate? Taking his shoes off at security would be a challenge...does he get a pass on this?

I've seen people get into small airport chairs as they board the plane but not sure if this all begins at check-in. I'm also thinking that a first class seat might give him more room than squeezing into a coach seat. In either case, an aisle would likely be the easiest to get into.

Should I also assume that we need to notify the airline ahead of time?

What's a good tip for the porter? $10? $20?

What else should I think about?

Thanks in advance for any insights!
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Old 06-17-2017, 07:50 AM   #2
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Hi
My late sister was extremely disabled( quad) and traveled extensively. I am mildly disabled and travel.

If he has his own wheelchair I would keep it as long as possible and gate check. At security he will be asked if he can get out of the chair. If he says no then they will
Do some level of scan/ search in the chair. If he can walk through they usually have a cane they can give you that won't set off the scanner. I don't think my sister had to have her shoes removed ( can't remember). I have precheck which makes it lots easier and shoes stay on.

At the gate they ask about how much you can walk. There are the aisle chairs if you can't walk to your seat from the plane door.

Definitely tell them in advance. When I reserve online there is a place you can indicate disabled

Flyertalk has a disabled forum

Tips vary with location and how long they spend. I try to be generous but I would not tip 40 if you zip through security and go directly to a near gate in 5-10 minutes. 10 is probably minimum

Where is he flying to/ from? What airline? Alone? Companion?

Generally non stop or at least no changes. If changes allow extra time. Fly early in the day if possible. All the problems and challenges are magnified when you are disabled. Please feel free to message me
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Old 06-17-2017, 08:13 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarah S View Post
Hi
My late sister was extremely disabled( quad) and traveled extensively. I am mildly disabled and travel.

If he has his own wheelchair I would keep it as long as possible and gate check. At security he will be asked if he can get out of the chair. If he says no then they will
Do some level of scan/ search in the chair. If he can walk through they usually have a cane they can give you that won't set off the scanner. I don't think my sister had to have her shoes removed ( can't remember). I have precheck which makes it lots easier and shoes stay on.

At the gate they ask about how much you can walk. There are the aisle chairs if you can't walk to your seat from the plane door.

Definitely tell them in advance. When I reserve online there is a place you can indicate disabled

Flyertalk has a disabled forum

Tips vary with location and how long they spend. I try to be generous but I would not tip 40 if you zip through security and go directly to a near gate in 5-10 minutes. 10 is probably minimum

Where is he flying to/ from? What airline? Alone? Companion?

Generally non stop or at least no changes. If changes allow extra time. Fly early in the day if possible. All the problems and challenges are magnified when you are disabled. Please feel free to message me
Thank you Sarah S! This is very helpful.

Yes, definitely non-stop. Boston to Fort Lauderdale. I'd be travelling with him. We love JetBlue but they don't offer a first class section on that segment. I'm pretty sure Delta does so we might go that route. Once inside the plane door he could walk to his seat but getting down the gangway would be possible but iffy.

I'll check out Flyertalk
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Old 06-17-2017, 08:27 AM   #4
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Generally speaking underestimate ability. Travel is hard. So the answer is able to walk to seat but must ride down to plane door. They should be good with that. Fort lauderdale is pretty user friendly. I flew PVD- Ft L soon after I started having issues. I think I even asked on Flyertalk about it

Have you considered southwest if they do nonstop from BOS? You preboard and pick your seat. No first class but you can be near front

Thank you for traveling with him. Solo disabled travel is possible but harder
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Old 06-17-2017, 11:47 AM   #5
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I went round trip from Boise, Idaho to India with my Dad earlier this year. He has mobility issues and relies on a walker and occasionally a scooter. He can walk maybe a 1/4 mile with the walker but can only walk maybe 20-30 feet without it and then only if he is holding on to something for balance.

I agree with pretty much everything Sarah S said, but I thought I'd add my own answers just as another data point.

First, make sure you allow plenty of time to accommodate for disability. It is much better and more relaxing to sit at the gate for an hour before your flight than to try to rush through security. If you're traveling as a companion, make sure you are rested, relaxed, well-fed, and have a book to read or something - traveling with a disabled person can try one's patience and you need to have extra reserves of energy and patience to deal with it all. This becomes more and more true the longer the trip - I was pretty patient with my Dad on the way to India, but after two weeks over there I was worn out and it was much harder.

Second, in our case traveling with my Dad got us some perks - you get to board the airplane early, you get to go through the fast TSA line even if you don't have global pre-check, you can go through special customs lines, etc. This applies to the disabled person and a traveling companion, in my experience anyway.

Definitely notify the airline, either online or by phoning in. They will want to know. Yes, you will check his walker/wheelchair (whatever he plans to use at the destination) at the check-in (probably not at the gate). They should either wrap it or put it in a large bag to help prevent damage, but slight damage will probably occur. Be prepared to take it over to an "oversized item" checkin area (where they checkin things like skis, golf bags, and, as it turns out, wheelchairs and walkers).

In our case, we got wheelchairs to/from curbside at all airports in all three countries (stopped over in Dubai). These were either "airport" wheelchairs or "airline" wheelchairs, and would typically go to/from curbside all the way to the airplane door. Tipping in the US is customary, but was specifically prohibited in some countries. Even if your brother can walk a little, you might want to have him use a wheelchair in the airport as it can save his energy and speed things up.

The TSA people will see you coming in the wheelchair and will scan you to the best of everyone's ability. If he can stand and walk the short distance through the Xray, they will prefer that. If he can't, they will push him through in the wheelchair and use the wand on him and maybe feel him up a little.

The small chair they use to get people on the plane is - I think - kept on the plane. The most common scenario is to be wheelchaired right up to the door and then walk the short distance to your seat. In some cases I believe my father was upgraded to a seat closer to the airplane door. Aisle seats are easier, and business/first class is easier just because they're closer to the door.

Finally, I would just point out that people's personality can change when they are in this situation - they're in relatively unusual surroundings, they're not as in control as they usually are, they may be uncertain as to what's going to happen. All these things can create stress in them, and they may become irritable, or childlike, or confused, or all three. The airline folk are very used to it and in my experience were always very helpful and professional, but again, as the traveling companion it can affect you and how you relate to your brother during the travel.

Good luck!
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Old 06-17-2017, 12:43 PM   #6
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More good advice. Interesting you could not gate check wheelchair. We certainly did. Domestically and internationally though not to Dubai or India. They prefer you to do what you did but for my sister it would have been impossible to sit in a regular wheelchair as she required neck support and recline function. If your wheelchair looks like an airport one and transfer looks relatively easy they will probably push harder to check it early. If it is a standard wheelchair it may not be worth arguing about though the longer the chair is out of your control the more opportunities for damage

Here are some tips to protect your chair http://www.disabilitytravel.com/acce...l-tips.htm#top
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Old 06-17-2017, 03:40 PM   #7
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Thank you all for your insights!! Excellent information; I think we'll be fine.
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Old 06-17-2017, 11:57 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarah S View Post
More good advice. Interesting you could not gate check wheelchair. We certainly did. Domestically and internationally though not to Dubai or India. They prefer you to do what you did but for my sister it would have been impossible to sit in a regular wheelchair as she required neck support and recline function. If your wheelchair looks like an airport one and transfer looks relatively easy they will probably push harder to check it early. If it is a standard wheelchair it may not be worth arguing about though the longer the chair is out of your control the more opportunities for damage

Here are some tips to protect your chair Accessible Travel Tips
Sorry, I think my language was a bit sloppy.

In his daily life my Dad uses a walker and doesn't have to walk that far. When traveling, he chooses to use a wheelchair from the car to the airplane door because it's longer than he is really able to walk. But he wants his walker at the destination (Dubai and India in the most recent case, Europe this fall!).

Since he doesn't need his walker if he's in a wheelchair, we get him into the airport wheelchair ASAP. We then want to get the walker on the plane as easily as possible, which means checking it in at the initial airport counter.

So we were checking a walker, not a wheelchair. And really, the damage was pretty minimal considering it was two weeks, eight plane flights, a train ride, and a thousand-plus miles in an SUV.

With your sister's situation, what you describe makes perfect sense. I'm glad that the gate check is an option too.

@OP, it was surprising to me to see how many disabled travelers there were. Being currently able-bodied, I never really paid attention. But traveling with my Dad opened my eyes. It may be new to you, but it's not new to the airlines and airports, and they all do a really good job IMO.
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