Looking for a Ready-Reckoner for First time Air Travel in Wheelchair?

traveller Ramanpreet

Air Travel is the fastest and easiest mode of travel, but for wheelchair travelers, it is troublesome, especially when it’s their first time. Today, let me share some tips to ease air travel for wheelchair travelers. 

After traveling on various domestic airlines in India and an International airline in pre-covid times, I have gathered that it is of utmost importance to know your rights and needs as a traveler with a disability. This will help  you coordinate well with airline staff for your needs and educate them about your rights if need be.  

15 Vital Tips to Ease Air Travel for Wheelchair Travelers

So, without delay let’s get straight into the most important requirements for air travel for wheelchair travellers –


Measure Dimensions of Wheelchair

While planning a journey by air, the first thing is to measure and note the end-to-end dimensions like length, width, height, and weight of the wheelchair in a foldable state. After this, look for the airline that can easily accommodate it, as every airline has different measurement criteria.   


Certification of Safety for Battery-Operated Wheelchair

Ensure you obtain a stamped safety certificate from the manufacturer of your battery-powered wheelchair. Lithium-ion-battery exceeding 300 Wh (watt hours) is not allowed to carry on airplanes as cabin baggage. Some airlines might allow less than this due to aircraft capacity restrictions. Hence always confirm about this before booking the flight.  


Study & Print Lithium-Ion Battery Regulations

Gather some knowledge about the latest series of consistent rules & regulations; adopted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and aviation authorities worldwide. Still, you may verify the norms with the airline office before booking your air tickets. Moreover, carrying a printout of these regulations and a safety certificate is favorable.


Book Best Wheelchair-Friendly Flights

Before booking your flight, check if the airline provides the following facilities: 

  • The wheelchair pick-up point is at the entrance gate of the airport.
  • Assistance for; check-in, boarding, and deboarding.
  • Ramp/ Bridge facility for boarding and deboarding the aircraft at both end airports.
  • Assistance while connecting to interconnected flights and carrying out formalities.
  • Gender-sensitive assistant to use washroom facility at airport and in aircraft


Special Requests on PNR

While booking your flight, you can duly make special requests to airlines based on your requirements. These requests can be following –

  • Must ask for wheelchair assistance for the end-to-end journey.
  • Request for aisle/bulkhead seat allocation. Usually, such seats are on a chargeable basis in India.
  • You can book an inflight wheelchair facility for transfer to a seat if you have difficulty walking through the aisle area.
  • Request for a seat near the washroom on the flight.

None of the above requests are guaranteed by the airlines as they provide them on first-cum-first serve basis. Still, ensure that special requests made by you; are updated on your PNR details.


Pick the Best Suitable Seat via Web Check-in

Passengers with special needs can use this facility only to block a preferred seat on the flight. However, they still have to reach a minimum of 4 hours before the flight. All the airlines have different web check-in time slots few domestic airlines in India open web check-in 48 hours – 60 minutes before departure of the flight.


Avoid Layover/ Interconnecting Flights

As far as possible, a person with a disability must book direct flights. In case of no choice, they may opt for an interconnecting flight with a minimum of 05-06 hours transit time. As they have to go through; extensive screening and scanning procedures at the transit airport due to wheelchair batteries in their cabin baggage. Sometimes even; additional formalities are required to get their wheelchair transferred from one airline to another. Hence, less transit time has a higher risk of missing the next flight connection. 


Carry a Fit to Fly Certificate & Prescription

Ensure to carry fit to fly certificate and medicine prescription duly signed and stamped by your regular doctor; to take your injections and heavy-dose medicines in your cabin baggage easily.  


Arrive Early at the Airport

Even after web check-in; the wheelchair passenger has to reach early at the airport; to complete the wheelchair & baggage check-in procedure comfortably. Moreover, on all airlines, passengers with special needs are boarded first in the aircraft; to settle them properly before boarding the other passengers. 


Follow Wheelchair Check-in Procedure at the Airport

To take a wheelchair along safely, one must follow the stepwise check-in procedure for the same as indicated below: 

  • Reach the airline counter and shift into an airline wheelchair. 
  • Remove the joystick control and lithium-ion battery (if removable) and keep them in cabin baggage.
  • Fold your wheelchair and share measurement dimensions with airline staff.
  • Ask for a separate check-in baggage tag and Fragile stickers to put on a wheelchair.
  • Proceed to the wheelchair scan/ inspection counter. 
  • Later, move to the Luggage wrap machine (paid service). Get your wheelchair bubble wrapped under your supervision. 
  • Put the check-in baggage tag, fragile tag, and your name tag on it before handing it over to the airlines.


Stop for Washroom Facility Before Security Check

During the security check, you might have to move your body in different directions with the support of a security guard as your mobility aid goes in the security scanner. Irrational body movements might put pressure on your bladder resulting in an unpleasant accident. To avoid such an emergency, you must use the washroom facility before the security check. Alternatively, you can use adult diapers on the flight journey day. 


Use a 360 Degree Rotational Suitcase/ Trolley Bag

This is one of my top tips to ease Air travel for wheelchair travelers. If you are traveling solo in a wheelchair, I strongly recommend using a lightweight and 360degree rotational suitcase only. At times, you might have to row your bag yourself. 


Take a Handy Support Rucksack Onto the Plane

This bag will be your emergency assistant onboard the flight. So, fill it with all your needs and necessities like – some emergency medicines, a pair of extra clothes, socks, an eye mask, kids blanket/a full sheet, a cushion, a small torch, a tiny sewing kit, a book/kindle, phone charger, wheelchair charger, adapter/ convertor, catheters/ adult diapers, etc. Keep space for your joystick control panel and lithium-ion battery in this cabin baggage.


Keep the Wheelchair’s Baggage Tag Handy Upon Landing

Since you will be deboarded last from the airplane at the final destination. You can utilize that time to take out your wheelchair baggage tag safely and keep it handy. So that while you wait for your luggage at the conveyer belt, your airline attendant can get your wheelchair from the fragile baggage section.  


If Wheelchair Gets Damaged/ Lost by Airline

In case your wheelchair gets damaged or lost due to an airline’s negligence during the journey. You can rightfully ask to get it repaired or recovered and deliver it to you in working condition. The time airline takes to mend their mistake; meanwhile, it is their responsibility to provide you with a suitable wheelchair. But ensure to log a lost complaint at the airline’s lost and found baggage cell in writing. In addition, keep a constant follow-up with this cell until you receive your wheelchair at your desired destination according to your itinerary.

Due to the pandemic period currently, the travel advisory and norms keep changing frequently globally. Hence, I suggest you verify all the facts mentioned above once again; before your travel. However, they are the best to my knowledge and experience to date. Always remember that while traveling in a wheelchair, patience is the key to a pleasant air travel experience.



Ramanpreet is an inspiring Wheelchair Traveler based out of India. After being diagnosed with the condition of partial transverse myelitis, Raman did not quit on traveling. In fact, she took it upon herself to not only continue her passion for wanderlust but also make hundreds of other accessible travelers aware, confident and high on life.