Adaptive Solutions

Air Travel

Published – January, 2015

Dear ADA,

        My daughter recently moved to Arizona and has invited all the family to her house for the holidays.  But now that I use a wheelchair, I’m afraid to plan to go.  Someone told me that airplanes aren’t covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  But what if they break my wheelchair or lose it?


Dear Grounded,

        Traveling is an exciting opportunity and can easily be accomplished while using a wheelchair.  Just like for everyone else, you just need to know what to expect and plan ahead.  The airport itself is covered by the ADA but the airplanes aren’t because they are covered by a different law – the Air Carriers Access Act, which has been law since 1986, and ensures that persons with disabilities will not be discriminated against.

        Asking the right questions can help you prepare for a successful flight.  Contact the airlines when you make your reservations and ask lots of questions about the size of the plane, how and when they will transfer you from your wheelchair into the aisle chair (those skinny, rigid-backed chairs) and from the aisle chair into your seat.  If needed, tell them that you need an aisle seat with a raising armrest.  Ask how they will ensure the safety of your chair.

        When you get to the gate, ask to speak face-to-face with the individual who is going to load your chair and get his/her name.  Tell the person anything particular about your chair.  make plans to carry on your cushion and footrests, if possible, because they are the parts that tend to break, puncture or get lost.  If you use a power wheelchair, try to take your controls with you, too.

        If you get to your destination and your chair is damaged or lost, you may contact the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO) before you leave the airport, even if it is by phone.  The law requires every airline to have someone who can address complaints “immediately”.  Please contact us at 704-537-0550 or email us at for more information.

        For more details about the Air Carriers Access Act, go to or call Disability Rights & Resources at 704-537-0550.

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