If you or the person you are traveling with has mobility limitations, it will be reassuring to know that the airlines, and airports, have systems to accommodate you and assist you in your travelers. There are also procedures in place when you go through TSA security that you should be aware of. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability and so there will be many processes in place to assist you.
Gate Checking Wheelchairs, Scooters and Walkers
If you have a wheelchair, power scooter, walker, or other mobility aid—any of these items can be checked after you arrive at the gate for your flight. Know what type of battery your device uses. Wet Cell batteries or Lithium-Ion batteries can sometimes be an issue so call the airline if this is the type you use. There are FAA designated rules for how to travel with Lithium-Ion batteries.
Most wheelchairs and walkers can be gate checked, so if you choose, you can use your walker or wheelchair right up to the door of the aircraft.
Getting Through TSA Security
You can remain in your wheelchair for most of the TSA security process. If you use a mobility device like a wheelchair, you can request a manual pat-down at airport screening if you cannot walk through the detectors. And you can request a same-sex screener to perform the manual pat-down.
If you use a cane, be aware that it will go on the belt and through the screening machines. If you cannot walk a few steps without your cane, advise the airport security screeners who may provide the options of either a manual pat-down, or will return your cane to you after it has been screened, and then you can proceed through airport security screening.
If you are using a mobility device like your own wheelchair you may be able to get an escort pass for a loved one to escort you to the gate at some airports. If not, you can ask to have assistance with your chair and not switch over to one of the airline's ones. Escort pass holders must clear airport security and comply with the same regulations as an airline passenger.
Prep Your Wheelchair for Check-In
If you are gate-checking (or if at check-in there are no bags to put your wheelchair in) your wheelchair, make sure the footrests are either removed or folded to reduce the chance of it being damaged. If you have a cushion on your wheelchair remove that and bring it on board with you.
Advise the Airline of Your Mobility Limitation
If you use a mobility aid like a wheelchair or walker, advise the airline of the limits of your mobility—whether you can use stairs, whether you can walk any distance at all if the ground surface is flat, whether you can get to your seat by yourself and if you need a liftable armrest. It is important to notify the airline 48 hours in advance (or earlier) of your needs so that you can be assured of being accommodated.
All of this information is important in terms of getting the level of assistance you may need, and when the airline knows in advance, they can have appropriate staff there to help and are required by law to work with you to provide the accommodation.
Finding Your Mobility Device Upon Arrival
If you are checking-in your mobility aid at check-in and not the gate, ask where it will be brought upon arrival. Some airports have separate areas well away from the regular baggage carousel.
Make sure your assistance requirements are on file with your airline and double check with either the check-in agent or the gate agent. There are times at the airport when there are unplanned for carry-off situations (when a passenger requires full assistance to be deplaned) and if the staff at the arrival airport isn't aware, it means that passenger can be stuck waiting while the airline scrambles to find staff trained in proper lifting to arrive.
Choose Your Seat Wisely and Consider Pre-Boarding
Regardless of your mobility restriction, if you need extra time to get to the aircraft then take advantage of pre-boarding. This can be requested a check-in.
Aisle seats are generally easier to manage as it can be difficult to access the lavatories when you are in a window seat in a bank of 3 seats.
If you require wheelchair assistance but are not going to use your own, call your airline and request wheelchair assistance at least 48 hours before your trip begins. The customer service representative will put a "requires special assistance" note in your reservation record and tell your departure, arrival, and transfer airports to provide a wheelchair.
There may or may not be a separate check-in position for special assistance.
Discounts for Attendant/Travel Companion
An attendant/travel companion may travel at discounted rates in some cases. Any possible situation where this may apply will need to go through your health care provider(s) and the airline's medical desk. Check with your airline to see if there are discounts for the person who accompanies you and what documentation they require.