Flying with wheelchair

We are planning a trip to Las Vegas next year. It will be the first time flying since began using a wheelchair. I can walk short distances but need help for longer distances. We are flying from Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic. Wondered if anyone can share their experiences. Good I hope! What planning needs to be done before, when do you check in chair and can you get transportation to gate. I know it will need more planning but am determined not to let it stop me going! Any advice gratefully received.


I must say Virgin are brilliant to fly with.

Travelling by aircraft seems a daunting experience for anyone Disabled in wheelchair or not, but in reality it isn’t it can be a seamless experience as you are helped every step of the way, (that’s not meant as a pun).

I worked for British Airways for 26 years, as such travelled to many parts of the World. In fact in 1988 I travelled twice around the World, some 48,000 miles in 5 days on aircraft, sponsored for Charity. Not something I would recommend but shows you it is possible.

Stick to these guidelines and you will really enjoy the experience. First on booking your flight tell them you would like assistance from check-in to the gate. This could be a wheelchair with someone pushing or a lift on a Golf type buggy. The gate could be over one mile away so don’t think your doing any favour’s by not asking for help. The aircraft has a certain slot for take off, if you are late because of walking difficulties, THE AIRCRAFT HAS TO GO without you, otherwise it costs mega bucks.

If you have problems walking down the isle when you get aircraft side, no problem, quite a few aircraft now have small wheelchairs especially to take people up and down the isle. If you can’t walk whatsoever, no problem, tell them and facilities will be put in place from check-in to take you to the aircraft by ambulance, high lift you to the aircraft and trained medical staff to lift you in the seat. The golden rule here is ‘tell them.’

With some airlines you can pre-book your seat. If so get one that has more leg room and near the toilets, probably a bulkhead seat. The Civil Aviation Authority has made a ruling that no Disabled person can have a seat by an Emergency Exit for obvious reasons.

If for some reason you get to your destination and your wheelchair is missing or worse still damaged it is the airlines, or should I say good airlines signed up to something called the Haig Protocol to restore or repair your chair, see the airlines staff.

I remember I went to San Diego from Gatwick once and they left my chair behind. I was in a rush had to go down to Tijuana and the only one they had to loan me had a large sign above my head saying ‘AVIS Rent a Car.’ The times I was stopped in my Hotel by people saying “hey fella, where can I get a car.”

Have a good time, don’t worry as far as flying is concerned you will be looked after.

As a matter of interest wheelchairs go to the front of any que. Do not think you are being rude you and your pusher go to the front.


Disability assistance

To help us provide you with the necessary service for your needs please let us know how we can help you. Here you will find all the important information you need about:

· Airport Authority’s responsibility within the EU (European Union)

· Mobility assistance at the airport and in-flight

· Assistance for visually impaired passengers

· Assistance for hearing impaired passengers

· Travelling with a Guide or Assistance Dog

· Other additional needs

Flights operated by our airline alliance or franchise partners may have their own restrictions so please contact us before you fly.

Airport authority responsibility within the EU

It is now the responsibility of the airport operators, within the EU to assist anyone with a disability during their time at the airport. This includes intellectual disability or impairment, age or any other cause of disability.

Airlines should provide the airport operator with advance information so that the appropriate service can be offered. To enable us to pass your request to them, where possible, please contact us 48 hours in advance.

Contact us

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Mobility assistance at the airport and in-flight

Mobility assistance provided at the airport

If you need mobility assistance to help you through the airport, please request it once you have made your booking, so that this service can be provided.

If you already have a booking with British Airways you can request mobility assistance through Manage My Booking.

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Travelling with your own wheelchair

Once you have made your booking with us, please inform us if you are travelling in your own wheelchair or other mobility aid, so that we can make the necessary arrangements to help you make the most of your journey.

· We will store collapsible wheelchairs and mobility aids in the aircraft cabin, where space is available. If space is not available in the cabin, your wheelchair will be carried in the hold.

· You can take up to two mobility aids e.g. 2 wheelchairs will be carried free of charge in addition to the applicable checked baggage allowance.

· Wherever possible you will be able to stay in your own wheelchair/mobility aid to and from the aircraft side. If required you will be transferred to another wheelchair to take you to your seat on the aircraft.

· At airports where it is not possible to take your wheelchair/mobility aid to the gate we may have to take it at check-in and give it back to you in the arrivals baggage hall of your destination airport. If we do this we will transport you from check-in to the aircraft in another wheelchair, or buggy where appropriate and, on arrival, from the aircraft to the baggage hall of your destination airport.

· We need to know about the size and weight of your wheelchair so please have these details to hand when you tell us you are bringing it with you.

· If you already have a booking with British Airways you can request mobility assistance to help you through the airport via Manage My Booking.

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Preparing battery powered wheelchairs for travel

It is your responsibility to provide sufficient information about your wheelchair/mobility aid and batteries prior to travel.

Dependant upon the type of wheelchair/mobility aid being used, a number of safety measures will need to be taken before the flight and you will need to provide information to enable airport staff to assist you. Typical examples of those safety measures to be taken are detailed below.

For wheelchairs/mobility aids with dry cell batteries or non-spillable (including gel) batteries

Protect the wheelchair/mobility aid from inadvertent operation i.e. remove the key, deactivate using the joystick, deactivate using an isolation switch or buttons.

If you cannot do this you will need to disconnect the battery and protect it against short circuiting by insulating battery terminals.

For wheelchairs/mobility aids powered by wet-cell (spillable) batteries

· Remove all connections from the battery terminals.

· Protect the battery terminals to prevent short circuits by covering the terminals with electrical insulating tape or plastic caps.

· Ensure that the battery(or batteries) is securely fastened and installed in the wheelchair/mobility aid battery tray.

To ensure safe carriage of your wheelchair/mobility aid it would be very helpful if you brought the manufacturers instructions (re: disconnection of batteries) with you to the airport.

Please note that you cannot travel with wet-cell batteries for any purpose other than for powering wheelchairs.

Companions providing assistance will be required if you are unable to independently:

· lift yourself

· reach an emergency exit unaided

· communicate with the crew on safety matters

· unfasten a seat belt

· retrieve and fit a life jacket

· fit an oxygen mask

The crew cannot assist you with breathing apparatus, eating, medication or going to the toilet, although they will help you get to and from the toilet when there is an on-board wheelchair available.

Facilities on board the aircraft

· On-board wheelchairs are available on all flights over 5 hours.

· Adapted toilets with handrails on Boeing 747 aircraft. There are no adapted toilets or on-board wheelchairs on flights of less than 5 hours.

· A number of seats with lifting armrests for ease of access.

· We will do our best to allocate you a seat that is most suitable to your needs. We will not be able to seat you in an emergency exit or cross aisles which form part of an emergency exit, due to safety regulations.

Contact us to request your seat

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Visually impaired passengers

If you are visually impaired, please contact us so that we can make the necessary arrangements.

The assistance that we offer visually impaired passengers is:

· An escort to and from the aircraft.

· Individual safety briefings and assistance during the flight.

· Braille cards are available on some flights and assistance is given to visually impaired and blind passengers.

Contact us

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Hearing impaired passengers

If you are hearing impaired, please contact us so that we can make the necessary arrangements.

The assistance we can offer hearing impaired passengers is:

· An escort to and from the aircraft.

· Separate briefings about safety procedures.

· Subtitles on the English version of the in-flight safety video.

· Induction loop facilities are available at most airports and on board through our in-flight headphones.

· Headphones compatible with standard hearing aids switched to the ‘T’ position.

Contact us

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Travelling with Guide/Assistance Dogs

Certified Assistance Dogs for blind, deaf or disabled passengers travel free of charge in the aircraft cabin on all British Airways services within the UK.

In addition Assistance Dogs that are compliant with the Pet Travel Scheme may be carried, in the cabin of the aircraft on certain international routes.

Find out about the Pet Travel Scheme

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Other additional needs

If you have any other additional needs that may require assistance from British Airways, please contact us.

Contact us

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US rule for non-discrimination on the basis of disability

British Airways is covered by this rule for any flight that begins or ends at a US airport. A full copy of the rule is available for viewing on request at our airports serving the US.

An accessible copy of the rule can also be obtained from the US Dept of Transport directly using the following methods:

· For calls made from within the United States, by telephone via the Toll-Free Hotline for Air Travelers with Disabilities at 1-800-778-4838 (Voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY)

· By Telephone to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division at 202-366-2220 (Voice) or 202-366-0511 (TTY)

· By mail to the Air Consumer Protection Division, C-75, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE., West Building, Room W96-432, Washington, DC 20590

· On the Aviation Consumer Protection Division’s Web site -

As a matter of interest your only about 300 miles from the Grand Canyon; well worth a visit. I think Greyhound Buses go there and wheelchair users travel free; just a thought mind you enough to see and do in Las Vegas even the toilets have one arm bandits.

Thanks for your post :slight_smile:


George is the expert on these matters. But to add to what he’s said, my own recent experience has been pretty good. There’s no reason why you have to check your chair in, you can keep it right up to the plane, then they’ll take it away and stash it in the hold. If you request assistance, they’ll either push you in your own chair from the special assistance area (or lounge if you have access to one); or if you’ve checked your chair in, you’ll get taken in an airport chair or buggy to the plane. You are usually seated first, if you can’t walk down the aisle they’ll have an onboard small chair that you’ll have to transfer to. Some flights have no onboard chair during the flight, as I discovered when I flew to Malta earlier this year, but I’d expect a long haul flight to have onboard chairs to help you get to the loo if you can’t walk that far. If there are steps from the plane at either end and you can’t manage them, they’ll use an ambilift to get you on/off the plane.

Also, if you need help from the car park, or from set down, depending on how you get to the airport, Gatwick are pretty good. We’ve tended to park in short term car parks or get valet parking from the short term because I’m not certain how easy it is to get from the long term car parks to the terminal, again, talk to them and find out how it can be managed.

We did find that my husband had to break the wheelchair right down into as many component parts as could be managed when we went through security in India, this might be the same in the U.S. They wanted to put the chair through the x-Ray scanners so the wheels came off, the arms, etc, etc.

One thing I have found is that being in a chair with special assistance gets you through immigration queues very quickly. The special assistance people just push you right to the front of any line. And that’s a real bonus!

As George says, talk to the airline and/or airport about what you need, they’ll always do what they can to help you out.


Thanks. Really looking forward to it. Sure it will be fine it’s just that thing of doing something for the first time.

Wow! The advice is fantastic!

From my experience you will be pretty much at the front of the queue and taken by wheelchair up the ramped access to your seat. If you are not taking your own wheelchair, the airport will provide one until you are aboard the aircraft

Passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility

Information about your rights and how to access special assistance

Your rights in the EU

If you’re a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility you are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when travelling by air.

This means airports and airlines must provide help and assistance, which is free of charge, and helps ensure you have a less stressful journey.

Special assistance is available to passengers who may need help to travel such as the elderly, those people with a physical disability, such as wheelchair users, and those who have difficulty with social interaction and communication, such as those with autism or dementia.

Your right to special assistance is stipulated in EU law and applies when:

  • You fly on any airline from an EU airport
  • You fly on an EU registered airline to an EU airport

Passengers who want special assistance should aim to give their airline 48 hours notice of the help they require.

Help is available from the moment you arrive at an airport and can cover:

  • your journey through your departure airport
  • boarding the aircraft and during the flight
  • disembarking the aircraft
  • transferring between flights
  • travelling through your destination airport.

See: Passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility | UK Civil Aviation Authority

Good luck and have a good time😎.