Spoiler Alert: Electric Wheelchairs Don’t Fly Very Well
I am certain that all readers who have flown in a commercial aircraft have luggage stories to tell; dinged-up suitcases, broken zippers, missing items, and even the fabled missing luggage.
Bob Hope famously quoted:
“I’ve been to almost as many places as my luggage.”
Unfortunately, wheelchair travelers have their share of stories too. I have many personal tales of woe transporting my son Jack’s electric wheelchair.
At the airport, once you make the switch from your electric chair to the tiny aisle chair, which whisks you to your seat, your wheelchair is handled and manhandled from the gangway into the belly of the plane and then back to the gangway at your destination by people who don’t appreciate how expensive and fragile your chair can be. Many wheelchairs are custom built with lots of gadgets added, especially electric wheelchairs. They can cost in excess of $30,000. I know that sounds incredible, but that is the price of special seating, armrests, batteries, levers, and special leg and headrests for starters.
If you are flying with your electric wheelchair, you better be prepared to deal with problems upon your arrival. There are, however, precautions that you can take to mitigate damage. How do you prepare your wheelchair to fly?
- At home, take photos of your chair and paste them onto an ID card. It helps to have a laminated travel card with your name and contact information, photos of the chair, the serial number, weight, inventory of parts, and special handling instructions such as how to lift the chair. It also helps to list the type of battery, the airlines will determine if it needs to be removed. If there is a key, note where the ignition switch is and where the key is stored.
- At the airport, take up-close photos of your chair before it goes off to baggage handling so you have them on your smartphone. They will come in handy when filing a claim.
- Remove easily breakable parts yourself and add them to your carry-on baggage.
- Take your cushion onto the plane.
- Personally ask the baggage handlers to take care of your precious cargo.
When you land do the following:
- Inspect your chair for damage.
- Take photos of any damage.
- Notify airport staff of damage and ask about making a claim.
The good and the bad news is that the airlines are used to hearing about damaged wheelchairs. They are generally quick to come out to your home and inspect the damage and repair the chair. This is something they have plenty of experience doing. It would be even better if they would avoid this process in the first place by taking better care of your cargo.
~Karl Power, CEO