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Flying with a Wheelchair

Wheelchair travel can be a bit of a battle. Nearly all airlines and airports around the world are only too happy to help travelers in wheelchairs.

So how is flying with a wheelchair any different to flying without? It is not all bad. Most people tend to be kind, patient and helpful, and you can get almost a VIP status, like boarding before other passengers.

In Australia most airlines have similar policies: the level of assistance you require should be made clear at time of booking. You can surrender your wheelchair at either check-in or departure gate. Upon arrival at your destination it can be delivered at the gate lounge or baggage collection.

Nearly all aircraft have on board wheelchairs which can be used to transport you to an aisle seat, and from there to a toilet when required. Some of the newer wide bodied long haul aircraft do have toilet facilities for disabled passengers. But there can be complications for wheelchair passengers.

Airline staff will wheel you to the toilet door, but then your on your own. If you can’t manage at this point, you may have to pay for a carer to fly with you.

Can you manage to put on a life-jacket? It’s usually kept under the seat. Can you reach it? Airline staff may allow you to keep it in the seat pocket, otherwise if you can’t manage, it’s the carer again.

In recent years there has been the odd issue between airlines and disabled clients.

In April last year 2 disabled passengers were refused entry to a New Zealand flight. Airline staff had concerns over how they could use the toilet, since no carer was present.

In June this year, a public servant flying from Canberra to Sydney for a meeting was not allowed to board in his wheelchair due to safety and operational reasons. The Dash 8, a fairly small aircraft can only be boarded via stairs.

In 2008, a wheelchair – bound woman was refused passage on an Adelaide – Brisbane flight.

The airline has a policy of allowing only two wheelchair passengers on its smaller planes, and two others had already booked. A few months ago, in the Federal Court, the lady lost her case of unlawful discrimination.