by Suzanne Bair

Whether you are booking directly with the airline or through a third party, booking 3-6months in advance seems to be the golden rule for travelers requiring accessible air travel accommodations. Early booking offers you the lowest rates and allows more flight options: times of flight, flight segments, seat assignments, and more. You do not need to purchase your travel directly with the airline to receive accommodations. If booking through a third party, contact the airline directly after booking your travel to request accommodations. All U.S Airlines must comply with the Air Carriers Access Act regarding disability services and nondiscrimination.

Requesting Accommodation

While most accommodation requests only need 48hour prior notification, seating requests are best made when booking your travel 3-6 months in advance because there are more seating options available, this includes both special seating and additional seating requests. It is also a good idea if you are in a wheelchair to prearrange accommodations further in advance because of boarding and deplaning issues that may arise (tarmac boarding in particular). It is important to check directly with your airline right before your trip for changes to their services and policies for accommodations. Approved lists of devices for portable oxygen concentrators and wheelchair batteries are available on the airline’s websites.


We are limited in what we can ask. We recommend that you self identify as best you can, this allows us to help you better and assess what accommodations you may need.  ~ United Airlines


Common Accommodation Requests

Special Seating is available for those requiring aisle chair assistance to board and deplane, those with specific mobility impairments, those traveling with sensory impairments who require care attendants, those needing additional space to accommodate a service animal, and those who require Portable Oxygen Concentrators. Special seating accommodations include the person requiring special seating and one companion at no additional cost. These seats are usually in the bulkhead area which offers additional leg room and removable armrests.

Image Description: An airplane aisle chair is seen from the side view waiting on the boarding ramp.

Boarding and deplaning assistance with use of aisle chair. For travelers requiring the use of an aisle chair, 2-3 attendants are provided to assist with transferring to and from an aisle chair to your seat. It is important that you or a caregiver/companion are able to verbally instruct airline assistants on how you wish to be transferred. Aisle chairs do not provide the positioning supports or straps that you may require. Wheelchairs may be used all the way to the plane before transferring to an aisle chair. Electric wheelchairs will be partially taken apart and stowed under the plane and brought to you when you deboard the plane. If you have a connecting flight you may decide to use your own wheelchair or use a manual chair provided and your electric wheelchair will be transferred to your connecting flight. A limited amount of space is available on the plane for other transport sized wheelchairs.

Electric wheelchairs, scooters, and other assistive electronic devices with batteries have safety restrictions. For approved devices please consult your airline directly.

Airport escort, boarding, and deplaning assistance are available for those with sensory impairments, limited mobility, cognitive, or developmental special needs. Assistance can be provided to escort travelers from the check-in counter to the departure gate, between connecting gates, or from the arrival gate to the baggage area. It is important to note that escorts cannot provide personal care services and do not remain with passengers while waiting for flights or during travel. Passengers needing assistance will be checked on at least every 30 mins. Escorts will assist passenger to the restroom upon request but will not assist passengers to other locations such as eating or shopping areas.

Portable Oxygen Concentrators are limited to approved devices and require a physician’s consent form. You must also carry fully charged batteries that will last 150% of the estimated air travel time. For a full list of approved POC’s visit your airline’s website or contact them directly.

Seatbelt extenders and additional seating are available for large stature travelers. The current average coach seat size is 17in wide with seatbelts lengths of 46in, seatbelt extenders offer an additional 25in in length. Some airlines limit travelers to two extenders. Additional seating policies vary between airline companies so be sure to check directly with your airline regarding their specific policies. If you know you will need additional seating, airlines will allow you to book an extra seat and if the flight is not full you may be refunded for your second seat on some airlines. It is best to book a second seat at the time of your initial purchase to get the same lower rate. Booking at a later date may result in increased fares and change fees.  If however, you require a second seat but have not arranged or purchased one in advance you may be bumped to the next available flight that can accommodate you if your current flight is full. While there is no charge for the change of flight, if made by the agent at the gate, you may be charged for the second seat and be subject to refund policies. If two large stature people are traveling together, you may book one additional seat to share.

Passengers in need of continuous care,
who are unable respond to crew members instructions,

or cannot assist in their own evacuation will require a traveling companion. 

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Service Animals require verbal, credible assurance and do not require advanced notice, but it is highly encouraged to allow 48hr notice to be given to flight crew and offer the best seating options available. Seating is usually offered for a window, bulkhead seats to provide the most room for your animal and keep them out of the flow of traffic in the aisle.

Emotional Support Animals require a doctor’s letter or Airline form to be completed by a mental health professional you are currently under care with. You must provide this letter to the airline 48hrs or more in advance for them to verify and validate your request. Upon verification, your special service request will be effective for one (1) year.

Service Animals in Training require additional documentation. See airlines directly for specific guidelines on traveling with a service animal in training.

Animal relief areas are available throughout the airport but may be far away from your gate. Additional escort services are available to assist you with access animal relief areas upon request.

International travel with your service or support animal may require additional documentation including health certificates and proof of vaccinations. It is important that you check with the appropriate consulate or embassy of the country you are traveling to at least 4 weeks prior to departure. Failure to meet country requirements may result in your animal being placed in immediate quarantine, fines, and other cost associated with quarantine or the return of your animal. It is also important to note that some countries do not recognize support animals.

Medications and Medical Equipment

Medications and medical equipment are not subject to baggage limitations and do not count as carry-on, personal items or baggage if all medical items are kept separate from regular items. You are encouraged to keep all medications and medical equipment with you in the cabin to ensure no delay in access to your necessary items. There are no fees for additional baggage required for medical equipment or supplies.

Medication should be kept with you at all times and packed in carry-on or separate bags in case of lost luggage. Airline staff are not allowed to directly handle, administer, or store your medication. There is no refrigeration available on planes to keep medications cold, instead, you must pack your medication in a cooler with frozen gel packs. Be sure to package liquid medications in an appropriate, sturdy container to prevent leaks.

More to come – Accessible Travel with TSA.

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