Choose your destination, book your transportation and pack your bags, you are going on a traveling trip with your wheelchair! If traveling were only this easy for wheelchair users and people with disabilities, but honestly it isn’t that comfortable for anyone. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, it is usually something you will want to plan ahead. Airlines, cruise ships, trains and buses usually have specific procedures for wheelchair users to follow. The key to a smooth trip is to be prepared. This guide to traveling with wheelchairs will bring you on your journey to creating a trip that allows you to focus more on the bright side of travel instead of the limitations it can bring.
Passports and Identification
When planning a trip, you will want to first make sure all of your travel documents such as your passport are up-to-date. This is the perfect time to speak to your doctor regarding any health issues that you need to treat while traveling and assure that your prescription medications are filled for the duration of your trip.
Book your Trip
Surely you already have your destination in mind as well as the accommodations you would like to have at the hotel. Speak to your travel agent or contact the hotel, airline, cruise ship, train or bus company that you plan to travel on to inquire about any special regulations that wheelchair users need to follow. Rules can change every day, so even if you have travelled on a specific airline or cruise ship many times in the past it doesn’t mean their rules remained the same. Remember to get the details and adhere to them to avoid being turned away at the terminal.
Traveling by cruise ship is increasingly becoming a popular way to see the world. Cruise lines such as Norwegian, Princess and Celebrity have good access for wheelchair users. However, at some port of calls you may be required to board a tender boat that brings you from the cruise ship to the shore. These tender boats are usually small and are driven by professionals to keep you safe. Holland America and Royal Caribbean each have either a ramp or lift that helps you safely get on and off of the tender boat. Other cruise lines that do not have this feature for the tender boats may cause you to be limited to staying on the cruise ship for that specific port of call. Always inquire with the cruise line if their tender boats are wheelchair friendly.
It is always important to check with the airlines, bus, train and cruise ship company you plan to travel on for their requirements for luggage size and weight. As a wheelchair user not all standard suitcases are convenient. But there is one piece of luggage that is a must-have for wheelchair users. It’s wheelchair travel luggage case bag. This luggage allows you to travel in style and is easy to drag and lift. The durable rolling wheels helps to reduce strain and stress as you travel on through the air port, hotel lobby, cruise ship and more.
Wheelchair Traveling Tips
- Plan ahead
- Update your passport and other travel documents
- Contact a travel agent that specializes in making travel arrangements for wheelchair users
- Conduct research on the destination, method of travel and hotel accommodations
- Consider and prepare for possible setbacks
- Keep a cell phone with you at all times with important phone numbers programmed in your contacts list
- Inquire about wheelchair accessibility for transportation such as buses, taxis and shuttles.
- Find out about wheelchair assistance options
- Ask about wheelchair accessibility for amusement park rides if this will be part of your adventure
- Get more information about special equipment and wheelchair requirements
- Verify that your wheelchair is in good working condition by consulting with a wheelchair maintenance professional before your trip
- Bring a travel size repair kit that provides the necessary tools to make small repairs to your wheelchair during your trip
- Notify the airline, cruise ship, bus or train company about your disability by advising them of the type of wheelchair and other equipment you will be traveling with
- Confirm reservations 48 hours before your scheduled departure
- Request a gate check when traveling via air plane
- Before handing your wheelchair over to air port personnel be sure to remove leg supports and seat cushions and carry them in special bags with you onto the plane to avoid damage and loss
Wheelchair Travel Requirements
Airlines, cruise ships, trains and buses vary in their rules and regulations in regards to wheelchair travel requirements. They may even change their rules from month to month or week to week depending on mandatory safety travel rules set in place by state and government regulators. While some of the rules may seem bothersome to most, keep in mind that they are set for a reason and mostly in place for the safety and well-being of passengers. The most common regulation is electric wheelchair batteries. Since there are a variety of batteries used for wheelchairs such as spillable , Non-spillable and Lithium ion, be aware that this may become an issue if you currently use a non-regulated travel battery.
The following are some rules that may apply to wheelchair batteries:
Lithium Ion Battery
- Federal Regulations allow for one large lithium ion battery to be transported installed in the device and up to two spare batteries. Each battery may not exceed 300 watt hours.
- There must be at least one effective means designed into the wheelchair or mobility aid in order to prevent accidental activation or possible short-circuiting
- The battery can’t have obvious defects upon visual inspection, which includes removal of the battery where necessary
- The battery must be protected against short circuits and secured upright in the packaging.
- The battery must be disconnected and terminals are insulated to prevent short circuits
- If the battery is removed, it must be carried in a strong, rigid battery box that is approved by the airlines, cruise ship, bus or train.
- The packaging must be leak-tight and impervious to battery fluid.
- The battery must be securely attached to the wheelchair or mobility aid and fully enclosed in a rigid housing
- There must be at least one effective means designed into the wheelchair to prevent accidental short circuit
- If no effective way of preventing accidental activation of the device can be determined, then the battery cables will most-likely be removed during length of transportation
Emergency Contact List
While you are out enjoying your adventure, the last thing you will want to think about is that something can go wrong. But, things happen from time to time and it is wise to be prepared. For example, what if you are not feeling well and you would like to return home from your cruise vacation early. You will have to request this from the cruise ship and they will want to contact someone close to you that can help you once you arrive at the airport or port of call. Make a list of up to three to five emergency contacts and include their phone number and email address. You can give this list to the airline, cruise ship, train or bus companies ahead of time. Before your trip it is recommend that you alert the people on your emergency contact list to advise them that they are a point of contact if anything were to go wrong during your trip. If you are traveling out of the country you may also want to supply them with a copy of your passport or other travel documents. Providing these copies is helpful if you lose your passport they can fax a copy to the nearest United States Embassy in the country you are visiting. This will rush the duplicate process and make things less stressful for you.
Contact Places of Interest
Something to keep in mind when traveling overseas to Europe and other destinations is that some of the attractions and historical sites are extremely old. If you plan to visit museums or historical sites you will want to contact the specific place of interest ahead of time to confirm wheelchair access. For example the Coliseum in Italy has an elevator for guests that use wheelchairs. If you come across places of interest that do not have wheelchair access to certain levels, you can inquire if there is any part of the attraction that you can enjoy. At times, some attractions that are not wheelchair accessible may have a beautiful garden outdoors that you can enjoy a nice picnic and take time to relax.
Some travel destinations worldwide may require you dress a specific way out of respect. While you are surely happy to accommodate the request, your disability may cause interference from time to time in regards to clothing. If this is an issue for you, contact the travel destination directly and ask if exceptions can be made due to your condition.
Wheelchair Entrance and Lines
While every wheelchair user wants to be treated exactly how everyone else, there are times that special accommodations for wheelchair users can benefit you. For example a variety of attractions worldwide have special lines and entrances for wheelchair users. This means there will be many times that you actually get to skip the long tourist attraction lines and go to the much shorter wheelchair access line. This will cut your wait time in half and allow you to explore more attractions during your adventure.
Guides and Assistance
If you are traveling alone and require assistance when visiting a museum or other attraction it is wise to alert your desired destination in advance. In addition, if you are traveling with a therapy assist dog you will want to inquire about regulations and if access is permitted into the attraction for dogs. Most worldwide tourist attractions make exceptions for therapy dogs and will allow you to enjoy exploring a variety of popular and interesting locations.
Lost or Damaged Wheelchairs
The thought of your wheelchair getting lost or damaged is enough to cause extreme worry and stress when traveling. Most airlines, bus companies and trains have a system set in place to handle these emergency issues. Be prepared to provide documentary proof of the loss when reporting damages. Taking a picture of your wheelchair before handing it over to be boarded onto the plane is a good way to prove that the damages happened while in the possession of the transportation company.
If you find that your wheelchair has been lost you will want to immediately report it and request a temporary replacement and personal assistance until the matter is solved. If the replacement accommodations do not meet your needs you can discuss renting an appropriate wheelchair from a local vendor and sending the bill to the airline, cruise ship etc.
If somehow your wheelchair has been delayed during travel, it is wise to report it to the airlines, railroad or bus company immediately. You will also want to request a temporary replacement as stated above.
Most travel companies usually go out of their way to meet the accommodations of guests and passengers that use a wheelchair. At the very least travel companies within the United States have to follow the regulations set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When traveling out of the country you will want to look into the regulations that your destination has set in place by law. This will allow you to be prepared for any issues that may arise and make you fully aware of your rights.Now that you have the details and tips for traveling with your wheelchair it’s time to plan your next adventure! Remember to invite friends and family along or speak to your care taker about your travel plans so they can clear their schedule. The world is waiting to be explored by you, begin your exciting journey today!
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