Many airports are so large that you can end up walking for miles – this can be problematic if you have a disability or reduced mobility.
Thankfully, there are laws in place which mean free support is available – including wheelchair assistance to get you through the airport and to your departure gate.
Here’s how to get a wheelchair at the airport step by step:
Request wheelchair assistance from your airline early – ideally when booking your flights. Look for a section called ‘special assistance’, ‘special service request’ or ‘additional info’ when booking. Here you will be able to tick a box or fill out a form and someone from the airline will get back to you.
Alternatively, you can request assistance after booking either by logging in to your booking reservation on the airline’s website or ringing the airline’s special assistance number.
Airlines recommend you do this at least 48 hours prior to your flight so they have some notice. This way, they have time to contact you if needed and can be prepared for your arrival at the airport.
If you don’t manage to request in advance, don’t panic! You can still ask for wheelchair assistance when you get to the airport – by law they have to provide one.
The trouble with this, though, is that you may have to wait quite a while – airlines generally recommend requesting assistance at least two hours before your scheduled departure time for domestic flights, three hours for international.
2. What you need to do on the day of your flight:
Leave plenty of extra time! Once you get to the airport you will need to find an assistance point or special assistance desk, request your wheelchair (whether booked in advance or not) and wait for your wheelchair and attendant to reach you.
Bring your own food and drink – the wheelchair attendant, by law, has to take you to the rest room, if you request it, but not to get food. They will take you to check in, through security, to the departure lounge and to the departure gate. But they will not stop at shops or places to eat/buy food and drink.
3. What you need to do on arrival at the airport:
When you arrive at the airport you should go to an assistance point. This can be inside or outside of the terminal. Assistance points will usually have some type of disability related logo, and include a buzzer or telephone to enable you to call for assistance should they not be staffed at that time.
Airports must locate assistance points at various places in the airport boundary and this may include drop off points, car parks, train stations and bus terminals. If you park at a medium/long term car park you will usually need to make your own way to the terminal using the airport’s bus service.
Once in the airport terminal, follow signs to the special assistance help desk (unless you have already received assistance from staff at an assistance point, in which case they will take you there). From here the help desk will organise the wheelchair assistance through the airport for you.
4. Escort Passes:
If you want to accompany a loved one through the airport all the way to the departure gate you may be able to get hold of an escort pass.
Some airlines allow you to check in at the ticket counter with ID and receive a pass that allows you through security without a ticket. This is only allowed if you need to provide assistance to someone with a disability or mobility issue.
The usual security check point rules apply so you still have to clear airport security and comply with the same regulations as an airline passenger e.g. no liquids etc.
The access you are allowed with an escort pass will depend on the airline. For example, some allow escort passes for departures only, not arrivals. And some only allow them for domestic flights, not international. Contact your airline directly to see what they allow.
5. How to get a wheelchair at the airport if you're having problems:
If you have a disability-related service concern during travel, ask to speak to a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). A CRO is a specially trained employee available at every airport who can answer your questions and make sure the airport and airline are compliant with the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, which prohibits discrimination of passengers on the basis of disability.
6. What to do by airline:
Here’s how to get a wheelchair at the airport for some of the main US airlines:
- When booking: Choose “Add special assistance” on the passenger details page
- After booking: Manage your trip on aa.com. There you can request wheelchair service or fill out the online form.
- Call: 800-237-7976
- American Airlines Special Assistance
- When booking: On desktop: Go to the Special Assistance link on the “Passenger & Payment Info” screen. On mobile: Go to the Special Assistance link on the “Passenger” screen.
- After booking: On desktop: Manage your reservation and select “Special Assistance” under the Passenger name. On mobile: Manage your reservation and select the edit pencil icon next to the Passenger name. Then select “Special Assistance”.
- Call: 1-800-435-9792
- SouthWest Airlines Accessible Travel Assistance
- When booking: Once you type in the passenger’s name, click the adjacent “Request Special Assistance” link to indicate the passenger’s special service request (SSR).
- After booking: Complete the Customer Request for Assistance form online or call the number below.
- Call: 1-702-505-8888
- Allegiant Air Passengers with Special Needs
Frequently asked questions
Yes – your crutches are allowed on the airplane with you, free of charge.
Though they do need to be placed out of the way in the overhead locker during the flight. This is to prevent them being a trip hazard and blocking emergency exit routes. If/when you need to get up on the flight, you just need to ask one of the cabin crew to get your crutches down for you.
You don’t need to contact special assistance in advance if you’re just taking crutches (or a walking stick) onto the plane. And the crutches won’t count as part of your baggage allowance, they are allowed as extra items.
In order to reach the airplane with you, your crutches need to go through x-ray screening. Or be inspected if they won’t fit through the x-ray screening machine. Don’t worry – if you can’t walk or stand unsupported without your crutches, just let the staff know and they will bring your crutches back to you as soon as they have been checked.
If you have other questions about crutches, please see the article below:
So that’s how to get a wheelchair at the airport stress free – I hope it works for you!
For all other airlines simply follow the same process as above by searching online for the airlines website and look for their special assistance pages.