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Wheelchairs and Other Assistive Devices

What is an Assistive Device?

An assistive device is any piece of equipment that assists a passenger with a disability in coping with the effects of his or her disability.  These devices are intended to assist passengers with a disability to hear, see, communicate, maneuver, or perform other functions of daily life.  Assistive devices include (but are not limited to):

  • Crutches, Canes, and Walkers
  • Braces/Prosthetics
  • Wheelchairs
  • Hearing aids
  • Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCs)
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines
  • Prescription medications and any medical devices needed to administer those medications, such as syringes or auto-injectors

Note:  If you are not sure if your device is an assistive device, contact your airline’s disability or special assistance desk.

Things to Know

Can I bring my assistive device in the passenger cabin of the aircraft?

  • Yes.  You may bring your assistive device with you on an airplane and stow it in the passenger compartment in the following locations:
    • In an overhead compartment;
    • Under the seat in front of you; or
    • In a designated stowage area if the device fits and is in accordance with FAA or foreign safety regulations.

If my assistive device cannot be stowed in the passenger cabin as carry-on baggage, do I have to pay a checked bag fee?

  • No.  If this happens, the device can be stowed as cargo at no extra cost.

If my device could not be stowed in the cabin, when and where can I pick it up after the flight?

  • Your device must be returned to you in a timely manner as close as possible to the door of the aircraft, unless you ask to pick it up in baggage claim. Airlines must check and return your assistive device in the same condition as it was received.

Can I bring my battery-powered wheelchair onboard the seating portion of the aircraft?

  • No.  Airlines are required to transport only manual wheelchairs in the cabin of the aircraft.  Most battery powered wheelchairs are too large and too heavy to be safely stowed in the seating portion of the aircraft.  Large and heavy powered wheelchairs are typically stowed in the cargo portion of the aircraft. 
  • When your powered wheelchair is stowed in the cargo compartment, the airline must return your assistive device to you in a timely manner as close as possible to the door of the aircraft, unless you ask to pick it up in baggage claim.  

Can I bring my manual collapsible folding wheelchair onboard the seating portion of the aircraft?

  • Maybe.  Individuals with a collapsible or break-down wheelchair may stow their device in overhead compartments, under seats, or in the designated wheelchair stowage area if the device fits and is in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations.  
  • Airlines are required to accept for transport at least one manual wheelchair in aircraft with 100 or more seats.
  • If your wheelchair does not fit in the cabin of the aircraft, airline personnel are required to stow it in the cargo portion of the aircraft free of charge. 

Can I use my portable oxygen concentrator (POC) onboard the aircraft?

  • Yes.  The airline must allow you to bring your POC onboard the aircraft as long as it meets FAA requirements.

Do any special requirements apply to my use of a POC onboard the airplane?

  • Yes.  Airlines can require you to:
    • Provide up to 48-hours advance notice that you will use your POC onboard;
    • Provide a medical certificate for the use of your POC onboard;
    • Bring a supply of fully charged batteries to power your device for no less than 150% of the duration of the flight; or
    • Check in one hour before the regular check in time for the flight.

If I bring an assistive device onboard the aircraft, does it count towards my baggage limit? 

  • No.  Assistive devices do not count toward your baggage limit.  However, if your bag also contains personal items, the airline can count your bag toward a baggage limit and it may be subject to a baggage fee.

For additional relevant policies regarding loading, stowing, and returning assistive devices to passengers with disabilities, please consult our helpful interactive guide

Tips For Traveling With Your Wheelchair And Other Assistive Devices

Before Your Trip

  • Confirm with airline that your wheelchair will fit in cargo hold if you are traveling on a small plane, like a commuter aircraft or a regional jet.
  • Attach clear assembly and disassembly instructions to your wheelchair before you head to the airport.  Having written instructions will assist airline personnel and contractors in case your wheelchair needs to be disassembled for transport.

At the Airport

  • If you travel with a battery-powered wheelchair, you must arrive at the airport 1 hour prior to the normal check-in time.
  • If your wheelchair or walker cannot be carried in the cabin, you can check it. 
  • If you have a wheelchair or walker, you do not need to check them until you are at the gate.
  • You can request that your wheelchair or walker be returned to you on the jet way at your destination airport and not the baggage claim area.  Airlines are required to return wheelchairs to users as closely as possible to the door of the aircraft if requested.
  • Upon receiving your wheelchair, do a quick inspection before you use it.  If there is any damage go immediately to the airline’s customer service and file a claim.

If Something Goes Wrong

  • On domestic flights, U.S. carriers must fully compensate passengers for loss or damage to wheelchairs or other assistive devices, without regard to rules limiting liability for lost or damaged baggage.
  • On international flights, the Montreal convention provisions control payments for items including assistive devices. 
  • If you believe your rights have been violated and the airline employee you find at first is unable to help you, ask to speak with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). A CRO is the airline’s expert on disability accommodation issues. Airlines are required to make one available to you, at no cost, in person at the airport or by telephone during the times they are operating.
Updated: Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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