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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!