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How To Travel If You Have Special Needs

How To Travel With A Wheelchair

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Travel By Bus:  Local Shuttles and Buses

More and more transit systems and equipment are equipped for access by people with a disability. In addition, every city in the U.S.that has a public transit system must also provide a paratransit system - a door-to-door accessible service available to people unable to use regular public transit because of disability.

  • Check yellow page directories online or off-line to determine the contact information for the transit system in the city to which you are traveling. Alternatively, contact the information and referral person at the Center for Independent Living in most cities. In case you're not familiar with them, Independent Living Centers are private, non-profit, community-based organizations providing services for people with all types of disabilities. To find a Center for Independent Living in an area to which you're considering traveling, see offsite link 
  • Find out the information you need to know about availability of the service, cost, and how much advance notice you have to give. Processing can take several weeks, so the earlier you start making your plans the better.
  • Some cities require proof of eligibility to use their paratransit system. While you're making contact, find out what proof, if any, they need about your health condition.

Travel by Bus: Inter City Buses

Find out about accessibility to interstate bus travel by contacting Greyhound Lines, Greyhound Towers, Phoenix, AR 85077 and ask about their "Helping Hands Service for the Handicapped." ( offsite link or call the phone number for people with disabilities 800.752.4841.) Trailways also offers a "Good Samaritan Plan" with information on aid and accessibility. See, tel. 703.691.3052. offsite link

Travel by Train

Check the accessibility of trains and stations and the availability of additional assistance through an authorized travel agent or call Amtrak directly at 800.USA.RAIL or by  mail: Access Amtrak, Office of Customer Relations, Amtrak, P.O. Box 2709, Washington, D.C. 20013

Amtrak offers a 25% discount on round trip travel to travelers with a disability who have a doctor's card or letter showing disability.

offsite link

offsite link

Travel By Boat

Great advances have been made for travelers in a wheelchair. For instance, Princess Cruises offers a brochure titled "Love Boat Access". The brochure provides information about wheelchair accessibility and assistance availability for all of its ships. See offsite link or call 800 PRINCESS.

Shore excursions can  be difficult. Sometimes ship booking staff have contacts on shore to assist. You may also be able to hire a taxi once ashore.

Travel By Airplane

  • Check the website of the airline you are considering using. Airline websites have information for their procedures for assisting travelers with a disability.
  • Make your reservations early  - at least 30 days ahead of your flight if possible. 
    • Explain you will be traveling with a wheelchair. Let the agent know you will need help boarding and that you will require an "aisle chair." An aisle chair is a narrow, straight-back chair on wheels can fit down airplane aisle. A transfer from a regular wheel chair to an aisle chair allows you to get to your seat without undue assistance. 
    • Ask if you will be able to stow your seat on board rather than with the luggage so you will be able to exit the plan without delay.
    • Try to use airports that are easily accessible. A pamphlet on the accessibility of airports is available from Access Travel: Airports, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC 20591 offsite link or call 202.366.2220.
    • Look for a direct flight - preferably one that leaves early in the day. Early flights are less likely to be delayed.
    • If you do have to change planes, leave plenty of time to get from one plane to the other.
  • Call 48 hours before your flight to make sure that your needs are being met.
  • Before proceeding to the airport, check the website of The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at  The TSA site describes security procedures at airports, what types of items are allowed through the checkpoints, and how to pack your medicines to go through security.
  • Get to the airport before the recommended time to give yourself plenty of time. Checking in early will also make it less likely that you will be bumped from the flight if it is overbooked.
  • On a long flight, ask that the aisle chair be made available to help you get to the restroom. Wide body aircraft must have an on-board wheelchair. Airlines must put an on-board wheelchair on most other flights upon a passenger's request (48 hours notice required).
  • Some planes have a privacy curtain that shields the aisle outside the restroom, allowing a companion to assist you. The newer, wide-body planes have one accessible bathroom large enough for the aisle chair.
  • Consider where to sit on the plane.
    • Some planes have aisle seats whose arms lift up, making it easier to transfer.
    • Some travelers prefer to sit away from the aisle so that other passengers don't have to climb over them if they need the restroom. They also are not pummeled by every piece of carry-on luggage that passes.
    • Bulkhead seats sometime offer more leg-room.
    • Check the seating configuration when checking in.
    • Most airlines have seats designated for handicapped passengers.
  • If you use a fold-up, manual wheelchair, you may be able to store it in the onboard coat closet (if the plane has one).There will only be room for one wheelchair, so get there early. Or check your wheelchair at the boarding gate and request that it be delivered to the gate at your destination.
  • Label your chair with your name and address. Don't put your address in a conspicuous place. It can be used by thieves who will know your home may be empty. 
  • Attach a gate delivery tag if your wheelchair is being stowed below.
  • Take any pads or attachments that might be damaged with you on the plane.
  • If you have a long layover, you can ask that your wheelchair be made available for you.
  • Before you land, if your chair was stowed with the luggage, remind the attendant that you will need your chair brought to the gate. Cabin crew can radio ahead to make arrangements and save you a lot of time.
  • Traveling with a motorized scooter may require dismantling, separate storage of batteries and size restrictions.
  • If you run into problems with the airline during your trip, ask to speak to the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). The CRO is an airline employee who is trained in the ACAA rules.  A CRO is required to be available in person or by phone at all times.


Generally, newer hotels are more accessible than the quaint old hotel on the old town square. Information on hotel accessibility and other travel tips are available through the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH), 212.447.SATH

If accessibility is uncertain:

  • Contact the specific hotel where you're considering staying. The clerk at a national reservation number has never seen the room and can only read a description to you.
  • Find someone (a receptionist, a manager, a hotel engineer) who has actually seen the room and is able to address your specific needs.
  • Take nothing for granted. A perfectly accessible room does you no good if there is no ramp to the front door of the hotel.
  • Make sure your reservation is for a guaranteed accessible room, not just a room with a request for an accessible room.

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