Taking a wheelchair on a commercial airlines flight is no big deal. You can roll right to the door of the aircraft and then leave it; the airline will stow it for you. When you arrive at your destination, your chair will be waiting for you just outside the plane’s door. Off you go. But mobility scooters are different and there are preparations that have to be made in advance of the flight. First off, not all airlines will let you bring a mobility scooter. Different airlines have different policies and so you should check with the company before planning a trip with your scooter. Most airlines have information on their websites, but it may be difficult to find. It took me fifteen minutes to locate United Airlines’ information page.
If the airlines will accept scooters, there will often be size limitations. Most, if not all, will require your scooter to be travel oriented. That means it is lightweight and can be disassembled easily into a few components for storage. The airlines are fussy about the type of batteries your scooter takes. The preference is for sealed gel type batteries. They will accept ‘wet’ lead-acid batteries sometimes, but you have to placard your battery pack as prone to leakage and clearly show which side must remain up to curtail leaks. Lithium-Ion batteries must be placarded so they can be stowed in fire safe areas on the aircraft. Some airlines won’t carry the batteries because of fire danger and the FAA backs them up 100%. It’s always best, as I said, to check with the airline and get specifics before you fly.
Let’s say your batteries are sorted out and you’re ready to go. You will need to mark each of the componnts your scooter disassembles into with your name, address, and phone number. Remember, it’s a scooter to you but only baggage to the airline. It also is wise to mark each of those tags with “Part X of Y” –meaning, show how many parts there are so the baggage handlers will be sure to keep the pieces in a set.
Finally, you will need to supply the airline handlers with clear written instructions on how to disassemble and reassemble the scooter into its traveling parts. Pictographs are best because many handlers don’t have English as a first language, or may be limited in their reading abilities.Most scooter manufacturers include such instructions as a part of their owner’s manual; you can photocopy or print from a PDF copy to create your ‘travel manual.’ Last, most airlines will have a form that you fill out giving information about the scooter. You will need to tape or glue a photo of your scooter and fill out information fields on the form. The information regards the scooter’s weight, battery type, and more. The contents of the form are, again, different from airline to airline.
Once you have all of the information needed and your scooter properly marked, placarded and accompanied by forms, you’re ready to go. If you are 70 years old or over, new regulations will fast track your passage through security screening. Everyone else will need to go through the same screening as everyone else. Expect to have yourself wanded and your scooter closely inspected. You may need to present your assembled scooter information for scrutiny in addition to your picture ID and boarding pass.
As a mobility scooter, airlines often do not charge a fee for carrying your scooter for you. But some will consider it one checked bag item, requiring you to pay a baggage fee for your suitcase or additional checked baggage. No airline will consider your scooter carry-on luggage, no matter how small it might fold up. It is also wise to bring along information which identifies you as disabled, depending on your scooter type. If the airlines decides your scooter is a recreational device, they can invoke transport fees of $150 per leg of flight! (Ouch!) Some manufacturers consider their products as travel scooters, and information to that effect is in their owner guides or brochures. Just to be safe, you might bring that information along too.
It seems like a lot of work to make your scooter transport ready, there certainly is some preparation needed. But if you have properly prepared, there is little difference between flying with a manual (push type) wheelchair and a scooter. You can take it to the aircraft door and pick it up from there as you leave. No matter which kind of chair you have, it’s possible it may get a bit scuffed up in transit. Expect it to happen and be pleased when it doesn’t. And remember that all responsibility for the scooter is yours. If something happens to it through disassembly or assembly, or through the carriage of it, it’s your problem, not the airlines.