Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) require specific assistance be provided at American airports for persons with disabilities. The Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights describes the fundamental rights of air travelers. These rights apply to all flights of all US airlines, and to flights originating at or ending in the US by foreign airlines. Here’s how to access that assistance.
First, when you make your reservations early, advise the airlines of the type of assistance you will need. Will you need someone to guide you to the gate, or someone to push your manual wheelchair, or will you be using your power wheelchair which must be gate-checked? Remember to call and confirm your accessibility needs before you leave for the airport.
When you arrive at the airport, identify yourself to an airline staff member as a person with a disability who has pre-booked specific assistance. You should be provided assistive services that address your needs. If you are traveling with your motorized wheelchair, be aware that each airline has its own procedures for storage of such wheelchairs and wet-cell batteries.
To express your gratitude for assistance, it is polite to tip the airport accessibility assistant. They are often low-paid workers and a small tip is usually appreciated. Their job is usually considered a tip-wage position by their employer, which allows them to be paid below the minimum wage.
Some of the rights passengers with disabilities have, in addition to assistance through the airport check-in and boarding process, include accessible airport facilities, priority aircraft boarding, assistance in getting to the onboard lavatory, and the right to travel with assistive devices and service dogs. Airline staff must have had training on how to properly assist a person with a disability.
What if you’re not disabled, but would find the long hike between check-in and boarding too strenuous? Can you request wheelchair assistance? Yes, you can, but the airlines may choose to transport you on a cart instead of in a wheelchair.
Have a safe trip and remember to book your accessibility needs well in advance of departure.