Traveling with a disability: Come fly with me
Day Undefined presents a series of blog articles about accessible travel. If you’re planning to go by bus, car, train, boat or plane for a day out, a long commute, for a business trip on your own or for a vacation with friends, you’ve come to the right place. Explore this series for lessons learned while traveling with a disability.
The following blog was written by Jessica and describes her experience as a wheelchair user flying from Ohio to Florida in July 2023. Meet Jessica and our team here.
I went on vacation in July, and I want to share my flying experience with you. Flying is a hassle for anyone, let alone someone with a disability. I traveled to Florida with my parents. My mom booked the flight; she said she marked the ticket that I have a manual wheelchair, and I need assistance getting on the plane.
We arrived at the airport a couple hours early, like they suggest to everyone. After we went inside, there was a desk with a scale where you check your bags. We told the nice employee behind the desk that I am in a wheelchair, and I need to get it checked. She gave us a tag to put on my chair so that the airline would know it is mine. The employee then pointed us towards the line for TSA.
We waited in line at TSA and put our carry-on belongings, including shoes, into a bin in order to get scanned. Seeing my wheelchair, one of the TSA agents asked if I needed to get patted down rather than going in the full body scanner. I said yes, so another helpful agent took me through a door off to the side of the line.
There is a little room that you could ask to get patted down in so you could have privacy. When you are getting patted down, the agent uses the back of her hands to check for anything suspicious. They also test your wheelchair with a little pad.
Once we went through the line, it was time to wait for the flight. At the terminal there is a desk where our flight information was located. We went up to the desk and told the employee that I needed what is known as an aisle chair in order to get to my seat.
When it was finally time to board, they let people in wheelchairs go first. We went to give our tickets to the employee checking them. She called for the aisle chair; we went down the walkway to the plane. The aisle chair was waiting for me to transfer out of my wheelchair.
The aisle chair is a chair with a high back, and it’s also just wide enough to fit down the aisle of the plane. It has arms that lift up if needed. The chair has a strap that goes over each arm and buckles into another belt that goes around your legs. Some even have straps that go around your knees.
The employee will have to tilt the chair back in order to get you onto the plane, but otherwise they just pull you backwards to your seat. Since my family and I got on the plane first, the employee who was helping me asked if we wanted to sit in the first or second row because she thought it would be easier for me.
I knew it would be difficult to go to the restroom, so I didn’t drink a lot. Luckily our flight was a little under two hours, so I didn’t have to use the bathroom. I know from previous flights that had I needed to use the restroom, the flight attendants would be more than happy to help in any way possible.
When we reached our destination, my family and I were told that the attendant would bring the aisle chair onto the plane after everyone disembarked. My wheelchair was waiting for me when I got off the plane. I transferred onto it and off we went to baggage claim.
The flight was worth it! Here are some photos of the fun I had in Florida :)
Images: (Left) Jessica and her dad hold up a blue and yellow fish that they caught fishing on a boat. (Right) Jessica swims with a dolphin, whose body is popping up out of the water.
Jessica reviews products and writes blogs for Day Undefined (meet our team). Here are two other resources about flying as a wheelchair user that are recommended by members of our team:
- "Boarding the Airplane as a Wheelchair User if you Cannot Walk" - WheelchairTravel.org (Article on the process and details of boarding, with real comments and discussion at the bottom)
- "How to Navigate an Airport in a Wheelchair" by the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (This video simulates the entire travel process from booking your flight to checking in and transferring between aisle chairs to arriving at your destination, and is hosted by Karin Korb, an elite athlete and wheelchair user)