If you have never flown or rarely fly, you may be uncertain and overwhelmed about how to pack some of your items. One of the major items you may need that you are unsure of is your walker or other mobility equipment. Even a cane or walking stick will have special rules on different airlines.
How to pack your walker for air travel depends on the airline. Each airline has its own rules. Most airlines allow you to bring your walker with you as long as it will fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. Some airlines also have designated spots for walkers.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have specific rules about assistive devices. For one thing, they have a list of what is considered an assisted device and what you can and cannot bring with you. We will go over all of that in this article.
Types of Assistive Devices Allowed On Planes
You should also check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) site for their special procedures. I have an article on “Can You Bring Canes On A Plane”, if you would like more information on canes. First of all, you need to know what an assistive device includes as far as the USDOT is concerned. Besides walkers, you may need to use many other types of assistive devices if you have a disability or mobility issue. These may include:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines
- Hearing aids
- Portable oxygen concentrators (POC)
- Prescription medications and devices like syringes
- Prosthetics and braces
Check with the Airline First With Concerns Of Your Mobility Assisted Devices
It is best if you check with the airline before getting onto the plane since they all have different ways of handling the storage of assistive devices like walkers. To bring your walker in the cabin of the airplane with you, it has to fit in one of three places:
- In a designated storage area in accordance with FAA regulations
- Under the seat in front of you
- In an overhead compartment
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What if Your Walker Does Not Fit On a Plane or Comply?
If your walker cannot fit into any of these spots or does not comply with the FAA regulations, you will have to check it with baggage and have it stowed in the cargo area of the plane. Be sure to get to the airport early enough to have time to check your walker.
The airport should have wheelchairs you can use to get onto the airplane without your walker. When you check your luggage with baggage claim, if you ask, they will bring you a wheelchair and have someone help you if you do not have someone with you who can assist you to your gate. You will be able to pick up your walker when and where you pick up your luggage.
Bring an Assistant with You
If you have to check your walker and use the airport’s wheelchair assistance, you may find yourself sitting around waiting for an extended period of time. If the airline does not have enough staff to quickly get to you, it may be better to have someone along to assist you.
You may also be able to bring an unticketed assistant with you through security and to the boarding gate if needed. In fact, most airlines will let your assistant go through to the airplane to assist you onto the plane. Once you are comfortably and safely seated on the airplane, they will have to leave the airplane, though.
Know Where to Go and What to Do
To be prepared and not have to rush around at the last minute, it is a good idea to make a test run. Gather everything you will need to get to the airport and on the airplane and make a trial run to get a layout of the airport. Learn where the ticket agents are and where you will have to check your luggage and walker.
Talk to the airport staff or the airline you will be flying with in advance of your trip to find out their procedure. Some airlines require you to get to the airport at least an hour before your flight. But it is probably better to get there about 1.5 or two hours early because of backups. It is better to be too early than to miss your flight.
According to the TSA Special Procedures, your walker will have to go through x-ray screening. If it does not fit in their x-ray device, a TSA employee will inspect it themselves. If you cannot stand without your walker, let them know, and they will provide you with seating or inspect it while you are using it.
Checking Your Walker Should Be Easy
Before you go to the airport, there are some things you can do to make things easier for you once you get there. Whether you are planning to keep your walker with you on the plane or not, you should always have your name and address clearly labeled on the walker, as well as your phone number. Here are some other tips:
- Write down the make and model number of your walker
- If you know the serial number, make a note of that too
- Take pictures and make notes of any dings or dents in your walker
- Check your walker at the gate or at a luggage counter
- Have them attach a delivery tag to your walker
- Let them know if you will need a wheelchair and assistance once you check your walker
- When you get to your destination, look over your walker carefully to make sure there is no damage to report
- Even if you are in a hurry, you need to go to the luggage service or gate agent if you see any damage
What to Know if You Are Bringing Your Walker Onboard
You will need to find out certain things in advance about the onboard instructions of walkers and other medical devices. For example, you will need to know the size of the overhead compartment. Most airline websites have that information for you. Otherwise, you should call the airline directly.
You need to measure your walker rather than just eyeballing it to see if it fits the size requirements. You may look at it and think it is small enough to put in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you but then find out later that it is too big. That will cause a big delay and a lot of stress for you and the other passengers on the plane.
Your Rights and the Law
As someone with a disability, you have certain rights that the airport and airline have to follow. Be aware of these rights, and do not let anyone take advantage of you. For instance, there is no charge for using an airport wheelchair and assistant if you need it after checking your walker. If they try to charge you, talk to the airline and let them know you know your rights.
The Americans with Disability Act prohibits any discrimination and assures you get equal opportunity as those without disabilities. Also, the Air Carrier Access Act assures that anyone with a disability is entitled to certain assistance free of charge. This includes:
- Assistance with boarding and deplaning
- Help with making connections between flights
- Walkers and other mobility devices take priority over other items in the overhead bins and storage compartments
- Walkers and other mobility devices do not count toward the number of carry-on or checked luggage you have
- Once you are on the airplane, the airline has to provide you with assistance with mobility if needed
- Airlines may not charge for providing any of these accommodations
That said, it is polite to tip your wheelchair driver.
Picking Up Your Baggage and Walker
If you had to check your walker with your baggage, the airline will provide you with a wheelchair and assistant so you can get on and off the airplane. Once you get to your destination, the airline will have the assistant help you into a wheelchair and get to where you need to go to pick up your belongings.
Most airlines allow people who need mobility assistance to board and deplane first before any others get on and off the plane. This includes first-class passengers, even if you are not in first class. If you have an assistant to help you onto the plane, be sure to stop at the check-in desk or ticket counter to get them a special pass to help you onboard the airline.
Getting Off the Airplane
If you do have an assistant helping you onboard but do not have someone who can meet you at your destination to help you get off the plane, the airline has to provide assistance. They will assign an employee and wheelchair to help you off the plane and wherever you need to go to get your walker or meet up with someone to pick you up.
No matter what airline or airport you are using, the laws are all the same. If you feel like you have been discriminated against for any reason, you should file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. You typically only have 180 days to file a complaint, so do not wait. It is your right to be treated with respect and dignity, and you should not let anyone take that from you.