What You Need to Know When Traveling with an Electric Wheelchair

Traveling when you’re in a wheelchair may seem daunting if you haven’t tried it yet. You might think that you wouldn’t be able to go where you want to go or enjoy as much of a trip because you’ll be limited to places where there are facilities for wheelchairs (e.g., ramps, lifts, priority service lanes). You might also be worried that your electric wheelchair might sustain some damage if you travel. It’s a valid concern: regardless of how much an electric wheelchair costs, it is the most important possession of any person who has a mobility impairment.

Allow us to alleviate some of your worries, and hopefully, you’ll give traveling another thought. 

Below are some of the things you need to know when traveling by air, land, or sea with an electric wheelchair. We also offer a few more tips on how you can be comfortable and at ease during your trips.

Traveling by Air

Wheelchairs are typically not allowed in the passenger cabin of commercial planes. As they are cumbersome and can block the already narrow aisles of an average-sized aircraft. Second, the battery packs of electric wheelchairs pose a safety issue for airlines. Because of these regulations, you need to be at the airport at least three hours before your flight and have your electric wheelchair checked in. Bear in mind that the airline may have to do the following regardless of the type of wheelchair and battery pack it uses:

  • Remove the battery from the chair (particularly for wet acid batteries)
  • Store the battery in a safety holder
  • Disconnect the leads and cap them to prevent a short circuit

It’s best to remove any detachable accessories from your chair beforehand. It can help to call the airline on the day of your flight, too, and provide your flight details so that they can prepare for your arrival. This can help to make the check-in process go fast and smooth. 

Depending on the airport, you can only go as far as the boarding area in your electric wheelchair. The airline crew will then provide you with a transport wheelchair. They will also assist you in boarding the plane. When you arrive at your destination, you might be asked to get off the aircraft last. However, you should expect to have your wheelchair ready (with batteries reattached) on the ground. 

Traveling by Land

When traveling long distances by land, the ideal arrangement would be to travel in your car. This way, you have control over when and where to take breaks, and you can ensure that your wheelchair is loaded correctly into your vehicle. 

If you must commute, make rideshare your first choice. With this, you can choose a preferred vehicle. For example, Uber lets you select an UberXL car, which can be a 6-seater SUV or minivan. You’re guaranteed a spacious backseat for your electric wheelchair and some more space for your bags.

Public transportation is a hit or miss, depending on the country or state you’re traveling in. Modern cities with well-developed public transport systems have subways and buses that are rarely crowded and have designated seating spaces for persons commuting with a wheelchair. Some, unfortunately, fall short in implementing regulations; it is essential to do your research beforehand. 

Traveling by Sea

Short sea travels don’t pose much of an issue for those traveling by wheelchair because most passenger and commercial water vessels (e.g., cruise ships) are ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant. You typically don’t need to worry about aisles not being wide enough for your electric wheelchair to pass through. However, if you’re going to board a passenger ferry, you may need personnel assistance in boarding and descending the vessel. Ferry passengers tend to mind their own business, and many of them rush as they board or get off the boat. For your convenience and safety, ask the ferry or port personnel for assistance.

If you’re going on a cruise, research will be once again essential. If you can’t find travel blogs or vlogs documenting other wheelchair travelers’ experiences, contact the cruise line and ask if they have facilities that will allow you to move freely throughout the ship with minimal assistance. Common questions to ask would be: 

  • How wide are the aisles and ramps?
  • Are the ramps and corridors covered with slip-proof rubber mats?
  • Are there areas in the ship that will be difficult to access with a wheelchair?
  • Can the cruise provide assistance and boarding priority?
  • Do they have suites with wheelchair-friendly doorways and bathrooms (e.g., suites with roll-in showers, bathrooms with shower benches)?
  • Is the ship’s electrical supply compatible with your electric wheelchair’s battery? Will they charge extra for your recharging needs?
  • Are the cruise-sponsored activities and excursions on stopover locations appropriate for people on wheelchairs? Will they provide shore assistance as well?

One important thing to keep in mind: the quality of the facilities and the level of comfort provided for people on wheelchairs vary per cruise ship. Do your research and set realistic expectations, and you’ll be happier with your cruise experience. 

Trip Essentials

Regardless of your mode of transportation or your destination, there are a few things you must bring so that you’ll be comfortable for the entire duration of the trip. These things will make your travel go without a hitch:

  • Go lightweight! Traveling with an electric wheelchair can be challenging because of their weight and size. At, we highly recommend investing in a lightweight electric wheelchair to make traveling faster, more comfortable, and enjoyable. 
  • Waterproof ID labels or stickers - These should contain your contact information. Attach one on your wheelchair and another on your battery pack to prevent loss or mix-ups if other people with wheelchairs taking the same trip as you.
  • Spare charging cord - Bring an extra cable if you need a backup or your primary fails. 
  • Travel-friendly repair kit - Even expensive wheelchairs aren’t immune to damage. If you’re traveling a long distance and plan to travel in your wheelchair a lot, you must anticipate issues like punctured or loosened wheels, worn-out levers, damaged caster forks, and a faulty joystick controller. You can do some quick fixes with a portable repair kit and have your wheelchair working long enough so you can find a more capable repair technician. Warning: some airports might take issue with you bringing a toolkit in your carry on. Your best recourse is to go to the airport several hours early to confirm what can be in your carry on. Being first also gives you time to check-in your toolkit in case airport officials insist. 
  • Cushion or flat pillow - You could be sitting in your wheelchair for hours when you’re exploring a new place. A cushion (or two) can help alleviate the pressure when you start feeling your back or thighs ache.
  • Upholstery/chair cleaner - Traveling can be unpredictable. We always recommend traveling with a chair and upholstery cleaner to wipe down your chair during your travels.
  • Wheelchair bags or customized caddy - Your wheelchair will no doubt double as a carrier for your and your companion’s things when you go sightseeing. Relieve your hands or other bags from heavy water bottles and other items by attaching a caddy or backpack to your wheelchair. 
  • Muscle pain ointment or cream - Long and extended travels can take a toll on a person’s body even if you spend most of it sitting on your chair. You can only do so much stretching while sitting, so anticipate muscle pains during your trip. Cooling and aromatic muscle creams are a must-have during these times.

Being in a wheelchair shouldn’t stop you from discovering and exploring new places. Sometimes it can be challenging. However, with a proper electric wheelchair and coordination before your trip, you can travel anywhere!