I know that I have written about Using a Wheelchair at the Airport before, Air Travel with MS ,but I feel like each time I use the service I learn more about how to make everything go smoother. I would like to share what I’ve learned over the last year with you now. Maybe you would benefit from using at a wheelchair at the airport?
Before purchasing your ticket
Be sure to check out the website of the airline you will be flying and both of the websites for the airports you will be leaving from and flying into for information about how use and how to request assistance. Most airports have a terminal map available and often times, you will find the door closest to the assistance desk on their website. You will also see tips on how to pack liquids, medical supplies, etc to make getting through security easier. * more about that later
Purchasing your tickets
Once you have investigated the services offered, be sure to ask for them when purchasing your ticket. When I buy my ticket(s) (either online or the phone), I request wheelchair assistance from the assistance desk to the gate, and sometimes another wheelchair that takes me down to the plane. (Even though I have never used one to go down the aisle of the airplane, those are also available.)
Arriving at the airport
Hopefully you were able to find information on the closest entrance to the assistance desk. If not, you can ask almost anyone who works at the airport. When you arrive at the desk, the agent will ask for your boarding pass. The information on your boarding pass (your name, the gate you need to leave from, etc ) will be transferred to the person “driving” your wheelchair. *Expect to wait as long as 20 minutes for your driver to arrive.
Your wheelchair Driver
The person driving you will normally confirm your information when they greet you. Often times, they will also ask you if you need to use the restroom, or if you need to stop at any of the stores. If they don’t, now is your time to speak up. Personally, I usually have to stop at the bathroom almost right away, but I wait to purchase any food or drink until AFTER going through security. (Chances are they will make you dump it anyway)
Getting through TSA (Security)
On the way to security, I gather my Drivers License and make sure to PIN my boarding pass to my phone. I also find getting through security goes smoother if I have already emptied my pockets, taken off my shoes, and let the driver know that I have a laptop in my carry-on bag. (Some of the security lines no longer require you to remove electronics, so I try to let the driver know asap, so we can try to find those lines)
If you end up in the normal line, the driver takes care of loading your belongings onto the xray machine. If you can stand or walk a short distance, you will go through a scanner yourself, if not a search can be completed while you remain sitting. (This takes a little bit longer, but is an option if you need it) If you are traveling with a companion they will also move “to the head of the line”.
It’s TSA’s policy that anyone under 75 years old needs to remove their shoes if they are able. Read that again… IF THEY ARE ABLE. I no longer try to explain WHY I can’t walk without my shoes. I find that it’s easier, when they ask me to take them off, if I respond that I can not STAND without them, and give them the option of doing a pat down, or allowing me to walk through, sit in a chair, and then take them off. *The most important part of going through security is trying to remember that everyone there is just doing their job. They don’t need to be stressed anymore than we do. Remember you aren’t really losing any time because you were probably able to skip the line anyway. Bonus right?
On the way to the gate
Sit back and enjoy the ride! Remember to use the restroom BEFORE you get to your gate as well!!! In the past, the driver would ask me if I wanted to remain in the wheelchair, or sit in the handicapped seating area. However, the last few times I have flown I was not given the option to remain in the chair. (I assume that it’s because when requesting assistance my reason for needing a wheelchair is my inability to walk long distances.) The newer wheelchairs they are using would not allow you to move without assistance anyway. 😦 If I could not walk at all, I would mark that on the form when requesting help. Before leaving you, the driver should ask if you will need help boarding. They will send another person to assist you closer to that time if you do.
Tipping your driver
I actually have no idea how much you are supposed to tip your driver. That’s not to say there are not 100 different opinions out there. For myself personally, I tip based on how much I have asked of them. Since I am usually pretty self sufficient, and only have a small carry on when I travel, I usually give them between $5.00 to $10.00, but I would do more if I had asked to stop at stores etc or brought more luggage. I have also tipped less.
Boarding the plane
Most of the time, people that require a little extra time when boarding, ( people with disabilities or people with small children) are allowed to board first. On the rare occasions that this is not the case, I tell them I am going to need a little more help.
After you land… Deplaning
Expect to be the last or one of the last off of the plane. It’s less stressful and easier that way. (Isn’t that what this is all about?) Your wheelchair driver will meet you right outside the door to the plane, unless you’ve asked for additional assistance. Usually they will also ask if you have additional luggage, if you need to use the bathroom, and how you will be leaving the airport. (bus, car, friend, uber etc) Again, if they do not ask, Be sure to speak up!
Remember to tip your driver!!!!
Have you needed to ask for assistance when traveling? How was your experience? Do you have any other tips that you would recommend?