Can I take my personal wheelchair all the way to the airport departure gate or aircraft door?
Wheelchairs are tools which guarantee independence, and wheelchair users do not like to be separated from them for longer than is necessary.
The Air Carrier Access Act establishes a right for passengers to take their personal wheelchairs, mobility scooters and walkers to the airport gate and the aircraft boarding door. This right to gate-check mobility equipment covers all devices, including electric wheelchairs. Gate-checked wheelchairs, scooters and walkers must be returned in the jetway upon arrival, even when the passenger has a connecting flight.
Passengers should be aware of the following regulatory provisions:
“Carriers shall provide for the checking and timely return of passengers’ wheelchairs and other assistive devices as close as possible to the door of the aircraft, so that passengers may use their own equipment to the extent possible…”— § 382.41 (f)
“In order to achieve the timely return of wheelchairs, passengers’ wheelchairs and other assistive devices shall be among the first items retrieved from the baggage compartment.” — § 382.41 (f) (2)
Within the United States, airports and airline staff are familiar with the gate-checking of power wheelchairs and passengers should face no difficulty.
On international flights, regardless of carrier, airport staff will often say that it is “not possible” to retrieve a wheelchair from the cargo hold. This is not true, and passengers should demand that the airline observe their passenger rights. On flights where ACAA protections apply, I make the following statement to airline/airport staff upon arrival:
The Air Carrier Access Act requires that my gate-checked wheelchair be returned to the aircraft door. I intend to remain seated on the aircraft until my wheelchair is returned, and I will not deplane until this has been done.
There is no shame in demanding that your civil rights as an air traveler with a disability be observed. Clearly state your expectations and wait for the relevant staff to perform their duties. If your wheelchair is not returned within 30 minutes of arrival (when the aircraft door first opens), I strongly recommend that you file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Unless we enforce our rights as passengers with disabilities, airlines will have little incentive to ensure compliance.