How to Protect Your Power Wheelchair When Traveling by Plane

The world seems to be picking back up again (not that there isn’t still a global pandemic). With that, summer vacationers are eager to get back in the swing of things and head out on planes, trains, and automobiles to make up for memories they may have missed over the past year or so.

photo of airplane wing
Photo by Matt Hardy on

For me, in addition to summer leisure travel, things are also picking back up for work travel. This means I’m back to being on airplanes. If you’ve been a mobility device user for any significant amount of time, you know that traveling by air with your device can be the most exhausting, even heartbreaking experience. There’s nothing like getting on a plane with your wheelchair still intact, then arriving at your destination to find it completely unusable. I’ve been there more times than I’d like to recall, and it never gets easier. In fact, many of us are working hard to ensure airlines are held accountable for damage like this.

For now, we have to work within existing systems to make sure those of us with disabilities can safely and comfortably fly, trusting that our mobility devices will be okay.  Recently, for the first time ever, I had to put my beautiful 4Front 2 Power Wheelchair on an airplane for the first time. Thankfully, I’ve done enough traveling with power wheelchairs in the past to have some tips in my toolkit for travel/wheelchair preservation when flying.

Here are a few ways to prepare for your airplane travel as a wheelchair user:

Aim to Fly Airlines with No Assigned Seating

This ensures you can sit in the front row of the plane, allowing more leg space and keeping people from squeezing by to get to middle or window seats. Southwest Airlines is an example of an airline without assigned seats.

Invest in TSA Pre-Check or Clear

Offerings like these eliminate the long security process for power wheelchair users. With Pre-Check, security only swabs my hands and wheelchair, they do not give a full pat down. I also can leave on my shoes and jacket. Plus, Leo my laptop, can remain in my carryon (unlike traditional security lines).

Pack your Own Transfer Device (Sling) to Ensure No Dropsies

I’ve been the unfortunate victim of being dropped by airplane employees, either while being transferred from my wheelchair to an aisle chair or from the aisle chair to the plane seat. A few years ago, I invested in a transfer sling by Adapts that allows people to grab the handles of the product and not my body. This makes for a much smoother transfer.

In my next post, I’ll share what to do upon arrival to the airport to make your travel smoother.

Click here to read part two of this blog.

About Andraéa LaVant: Andraéa is a disability consultant and worked as an impact producer for Crip Camp, a feature-length documentary on Netflix. Andraéa lives in California and uses a 4Front 2 Power Chair.

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