With a little extra planning, wheelchair users can and do travel all over the world, to musical festivals, safaris, sporting events—just about anywhere. Travel, especially air travel, can be challenging under the best of circumstances, so it’s important to be prepared and leave plenty of time.
Booking tickets well in advance can save money and hassles. The earlier airplane tickets are booked, the more possible it is to get a prime seat, which for many wheelchair users is an aisle bulkhead seat. Aisle seats work because it is generally easier to transfer to an aisle seat and to get to the toilet from an aisle seat. Bulkhead seats allow more room to move and stretch and make it easier for aisle and window seat passengers to get by. While passengers are not required to tell airlines that they use a wheelchair, telling them can help get the best seats and avoid problems at the airport.
At airports with curbside check in, porters will take luggage to the counter designated for passengers with special needs. At the counter, staff should help with baggage check in and arrange for an aisle chair to wheel people who cannot walk into the plane, to their seats and also to and from the toilet on the plane.
Airlines must carry a standard size collapsible wheelchair for free without counting it as part of the passenger’s luggage allowance. Airline employees will put a wheelchair either in a storage compartment in the cabin or in the hold. Aircraft with 100 or more seats must provide on-board storage for at least one manual wheelchair.
Advance planning can also ensure that the wheelchair stays in good working order. A "tune-up" before leaving home can prevent problems. Another precaution is to bring tools and extra parts, because wheelchair parts will not be available everywhere.
In terms of places to stay, accessibility must be inquired about, including elevators and bathrooms, before booking. If the trip involves renting a car, advance booking will help ensure a car with hand controls is available, if needed. Travel companies that specialize in travel and tours for people with disabilities can handle many of these arrangements, leaving the travelers to enjoy their trips.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is unlawful to deny services to an individual because of a disability. The Air Carrier Access rules, published in 1990, aims to minimize the problems a disabled traveler may experience when flying. (For information and assistance with airline accessibility, you can call the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Consumer Disability Hotline toll free at 866-266-1368.)
While the ACAA applies only to air travel, the ADA applies to transportation
more broadly. Both laws address many of the barriers and challenges disabled
travelers face. Federal regulations require wheelchair lifts and restraints
in buses; accessible rest stops, stations, and airports (including restrooms
and elevators); boarding assistance for passengers with disabilities; curb
cuts and ramps; and other reasonable modifications.