Can I store my manual wheelchair on the airplane?

The Air Carrier Access Act mandates that airlines provide a place to store a collapsible, folding or break-down manual wheelchair in the aircraft cabin. All airplanes with 100 seats or more must have a wheelchair closet measuring at least 13 inches by 36 inches by 42 inches.

Wheelchair storage closet on airplane.
Wheelchair storage closet on Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Wheelchairs and other assistive devices are to be stowed in the designated wheelchair storage closet with priority over all other items brought by passengers or crew, including crew luggage.

Airlines may not request or suggest that a passenger with a disability not stow his or her wheelchair in the designated space for any non-safety related reason. If the crew have already placed their baggage in the onboard closet, it must be removed in favor of an assistive device belonging to a passenger with a disability.

If there are multiple passengers with disabilities traveling on a flight, access to the wheelchair storage closet is provided on a first come, first serve basis.

What if my manual wheelchair will not fit in the airplane closet?

If your manual wheelchair has a rigid frame and will not fit inside the onboard wheelchair closet, the wheelchair will need to be stored in the airplane cargo hold.

When storing a wheelchair in the cargo compartment, it is recommended that all detachable parts of the wheelchair be removed and stored in the aircraft cabin. Such components may include seat cushions, side guards, footrests, cup holders, bags, lighting kits and other attachments. These items may be stored at your seat, in an overhead bin or in the wheelchair closet.

What if the airplane does not have the required wheelchair storage closet?

If an airline has chosen not to install the wheelchair closet required by the ACAA, it must secure manual wheelchairs in the aircraft cabin using the seat-strapping method.

The seat-strapping method is a way of tying down a folding wheelchair to a row of seats on the airplane. Seat-strapping is permitted and allows carriers to forgo installation of the large wheelchair closet.

However, when an airline makes this decision, it must accommodate a passenger’s wheelchair in the cabin by strapping it to a row of seats. The airline is obligated to do this, even if the flight is fully booked. Passengers displaced as a result of their seats being used to secure a wheelchair are entitled to denied boarding compensation as outlined in 14 CFR Part 250.

As a result of these requirements, most carriers do provide the wheelchair closet onboard.