Man and Woman in Wheelchairs at Airport

7 Of The Best Accessible Airlines for Disabled Passengers & Wheelchair Users

For decades, air travel has been a relatively stressful experience for those traveling with a disability. Where domestic, or transatlantic, crowded airports, long queues, luggage restrictions, and inflexible seating policies have all made flying a pain for those with mobility issues, leaving many to consider just staying home instead.

However, these days, when you are flying with a disability, there are more choices than ever. Airlines have made great strides in making air travel comfortable and seamless for everyone, including those with reduced mobility.

However, some airlines are better than others – while one might offer free use of mobility aids, another might not. So, before clicking “book”, it is a good idea to review the reputation of the airline you’re considering, especially concerning how they handle those with specific needs.

To assist you in your research, in this article we present the best airlines for disabled passengers and the most important things to consider when flying with a disability. 

7 Best Airlines for Disabled Passengers

1. Qantas

Qantas Airline 747 Plane at Airport

As the flag carrier to Australia, Qantas Airways has made significant strides in making air travel accessible to persons with reduced mobility. The airline provides a wide selection of specialized services and mobility aids to disabled travelers at the airport and on board the plane. 

They offer a meet and service option that you can request during booking. With this, Qantas will provide dedicated assistance staff to help you move from the check-in to the departure gate, claim baggage, and deliver your wheelchair on arrival. 

(Please Note: This service must be requested no less than 48 hours before the flight. This gives the airline ample time to prepare the necessary assistance for your unique requirements.)

Onboard, Qantas will provide a wheelchair to help you access the restroom, torso harness seats to protect you during take-off and landing, and staff to meet your needs during the entire flight. 

Qantas is a great airline for those with disabilities. If you would like to learn more about what they offer, please read this personal account flying with Qantas from HaveWheelchairWillTravel.net.

We also link to the following resources from the Qantas website:

Qantas: How To Request Specific Assistance

Qantas: Contact Us About Specific Needs

2. American Airlines

Despite their patchy history, over the past six months, American Airlines have made great strides in their customer service and support. This includes their accessibility policies. And as of today, we can say American Airlines is another reliable airline that takes your disability needs to heart. 

When booking with American Airlines, you should let them know if you have any special needs and they will do their best to help you. For example, by providing a wheelchair for assistance moving from check-in to departure. 

As with Qantas, it is recommended you make any special requests within 48 hours of your flight to allow time for the airline to coordinate the meet and assist services for you.

During the flight, the flight attendants can help you access the aircraft lavatory by using the onboard wheelchair. The onboard lavatories are specially designed to accommodate all passengers with reduced mobility. 

Every plane American Airlines uses includes a collapsible chair onboard, and selected seats with removable aisle armrests to make the movement to and from the restrooms less difficult.

We link to the following resource from the American Airlines website:

American Airlines: Special Assistance Policy

3. Air Canada

Air Canada is Canada’s flag carrier and the best in providing an all-round special service to disabled passengers throughout their flight and time at the airport. With excellent customer service, all your needs will be handled in no time from the check-in stage to retrieving your mobility aid at the destination airport.

Meet and assist services are provided on request and, as with the other airlines, preferably within 48 hours of the time of flight. Passengers traveling with mobility aids are required to notify Air Canada in advance to ascertain the device meets the requirements of the specific aircraft.

Some of the special services provided by Air Canada include:

  • Stowing mobility aids if there is no enough space onboard
  • Requesting special attention when booking
  • Assistance provided during the registration at the check-in
  • Designated wheelchair to use at the airport before taking off.

The most definitive feature that makes Air Canada the best in handling the disabled is the ability to request or change your seat to a more comfortable seat with no extra charges included. They go a long way to assign you an extra seat if it’s available.

We link to the following resource from the Air Canada website:

Air Canada: Mobility

4. Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines Plane Takeoff

Delta Airlines is another airline dedicated to providing a seamless and comfortable air trip to all passengers regardless of their circumstances. Delta aims at ensuring accessibility to every individual with excellent meet and assist services up to the point of leaving the destination airport. Also, Delta provides a versatile seating accommodation by transferring passengers with disabilities to seats with removable armrests. 

Service animals are welcomed onboard Delta flights as long as they don’t block the aisle or emergency exits. 

On top of all this, Delta will transport your manual or electric wheelchair free of charge!

We link to the following resource from the Delta website:

Delta:  Accessible Travel Services

5. JetBlue

JetBlue strives towards making your air travel experience the most accessible possible by providing wheelchairs at the airport, pre-boarding and accessible seating, and carriage of assistive devices to customers with disabilities. You are required to board as early as possible to allow JetBlue to plan for your unique travel needs.

During boarding, passengers with disabilities are first allowed to board and stow their assistive devices before the general boarding. If you need an airline that puts the needs of disabled passengers first, JetBlue should be your first pick.

Passengers can qualify for designated seating when:

  • Traveling with a caregiver
  • Unable to transfer to over a fixed armrest
  • Flying with a service animal
  • Having a fused/immobilized leg

Passengers with their own assistive devices are required to inform customer service on the best way to handle and stow their wheelchair or mobility aid while avoiding damage. 

We refer to the following resource from the JetBlue website:

JetBlue: Accessibility Assistance

6. Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic is one of the best airlines for disabled travelers with a good track record of providing excellent mobility and medical assistance to their passengers, when given at least 48 hours’ notice.

Virgin Atlantic offers versatile seats and restroom access to passengers with disabilities. Most of their aircraft have moveable armrest seats to help with your mobility issues and fully equipped toilets accessible with the onboard wheelchair. The cabin crew can assist the passenger to and from the toilet door.

In terms of airport support, you can request meet and assist services to help you get to or from the aircraft. You must discuss with the special assistance team when planning to travel with your mobility aid.

The Virgin Atlantic leads in providing medical assistance and support to customers. They have a fully stocked supply of medical kits both in airports and on planes to give any assistance needed to anyone that needs it. 

We refer to the following resource from the Virgin Atlantic website:

Virgin Atlantic: Mobility Assistance

7. Emirates

Passengers with special needs, including hearing, visual, and mobility requirements, can happily enjoy their air travel with Emirates Airlines. As long as you indicate your type of impairment at the time of booking, Emirates will ensure you have a great, comfortable experience.

On arrival at the airport, a meet and assist service is available to help with your mobility challenges to and from the departure gate. Wheelchairs are available on request in all the airport locations to assist you from the time you check-in to the time you leave. Emirates accepts onboarding with your wheelchair; however, it must meet the requirements of the aircraft. 

In-flight assistance and accessibility are excellent with onboard wheelchairs and aisles with moveable armrests. With this, you can access the lavatory any time you want regardless of your disability. The staff are great.

We refer to the following resource from the Emirates website:

Emirates: Information For Customers with Special Needs

Things to Consider When Flying with a Disability

Know Your Rights Under Disability Law

As a disabled person, know what you’re entitled to and don’t shy away from asking for it. This will make your air travel experience less stressful. Luckily, there are some legislative policies and acts established to make air travel more accessible to persons with disability. While these standards are not uniform worldwide, all disabled people flying within the European Union (EU) and the US are entitled to support free of charge.

When flying outside the EU and the US, you must understand the disability regulations specific to the selected airline and the country you are flying to.

Avoid Wheelchair or Mobility Aid Damage

Failure to provide adequate assistance to wheelchair users is one of the common complaints amongst people flying with disabilities. Mishandled wheelchairs and delays when deplaning causes many wheelchair users to not travel at all. While airlines are responsible for repairing your damaged wheelchair, consider booking an airline with a good name in handling and storing wheelchairs during travel.

Restroom Access

Most single-aisle planes hardly have accessible toilets onboard. Even for two-aisle planes, the configuration of the restrooms is not favorable for persons with disabilities. Always see to it that you’ve requested an onboard wheelchair before take-off, preferably 48 hours before. The flight attendants can then help you to get to the bathroom.

Pick the Right Flight

Choosing the right flight is essential because different airlines provide a different level of customer support. Make sure to pick an airline with an unrivaled customer service reputation to make your travel less stressful. It’s worth noting that, typically, customer support and service for disabled people is free of charge, and that you should not pay any additional fees while onboard.

Final Thoughts

Traveling with a disability is not as stressful as it was in the past. With airlines restructuring their policies and standards to accommodate passengers with reduced mobility and other disabilities, you can look forward to a safe and easy journey despite your impairment. Always make sure to review the reputation of any airline before making a booking. While different airlines will provide differing experiences on how they handle disabled passengers, these best airlines for wheelchair users will ensure your disability does not in any way affect your travel experience.

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Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!
Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!

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