There are times when travelers need help navigating airports, especially large, complex ones like Hartsfield-Jackson International. The 1986 Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to provide free wheelchair service to any traveler who asks for it, without requiring a description or documentation for that need.
If you have mobility issues, it can be daunting getting from the airport curb to the gate for your flight. Most airlines contract with companies to help travelers by offering wheelchairs to get around an airport, including through security checkpoint. In larger airports, they also have electric carts available for those who can’t walk long distances, need a little extra help, or need to get to a gate quickly to make a flight.
How to Arrange a Wheelchair or Cart
Requests for a wheelchair or cart are first made when booking your flight. After buying the ticket call your airline of choice and ask to have a wheelchair or cart made available on your date of travel. Be sure to specify if you will require a wheelchair or cart as soon as you arrive, as well as if you will require it on the aircraft. After the phone call, the request should be added to your passenger record and be available once you get to the airport.
Most airlines ask that you make wheelchair or cart requests at least 48 hours in advance. Last minute requests may not be accommodated by the airline.
Who Is Eligible for an Airport Wheelchair?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, anyone who self-identifies as disabled to airport personnel is entitled to assistance moving throughout the airport. However airlines use four designations to determine which type of wheelchair or cart assistance is needed:
- Passengers who can walk onto a plane but need help getting from the terminal to the aircraft.
- Passengers who can’t navigate stairs, but can walk onboard a plane and who need a wheelchair to move between an aircraft and a terminal.
- Passengers with a disability of their lower limbs that can take care of themselves, but need help boarding and departing from a plane.
- Passengers that are completely immobile and need help from the time they get to the airport through to the time they need to board the aircraft.
Using a Wheelchair or Cart at the Airport
When you arrive at the airport let airport personnel know that you require wheelchair assistance. If your wheelchair/cart reservation was properly made, the airline check-in desk should have a wheelchair ready. Many airlines provide wheelchair assistants for travelers who require a wheelchair or cart from the moment of arrival. The assistant will help you through security checkpoints, the terminal, and to the gate.
If your airport has skycaps at the departures curb, you can also request a wheelchair from them to get you through security and to your gate. Just make sure that you have alerted your airline in advance that you require a wheelchair and you self-identify as a person who needs assistance to the person working.
After checking in, you can make arrangements with a gate agent to have a wheelchair or cart available at your transfer point or final destination. Airlines also have special wheelchairs to help people board an aircraft and some airlines have plane-specific wheelchairs so that guests can be mobile on the flight. Upon arrival there will be people waiting with wheelchairs on the jet bridge.
Travelers are advised to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their flight is scheduled to depart and be at the gate at least an hour before departure. Those with their own electric or battery-powered wheelchairs, carts, or scooters must have them checked in and be available to board your aircraft at least 45 minutes before departure. Those transporting non-electric or non-battery-powered wheelchairs, carts, or scooters must be checked in and you must be available to board at least 30 minutes before your flight departs.
For more information on specific airline wheelchair policies, see the links below.
Wheelchair Policies at Top 10 U.S. Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Allegiant Airlines
Wheelchair Policies at Top 10 International Airlines
- China Southern
- British Airways
- Air France
- Air China
- Turkish Airlines
- China Eastern