Traveling with a Mobility Scooter or Power Wheelchair on an Airplane

Are you planning on traveling by way of airplane with a mobility scooter or power wheelchair? Many people in the United States are not sure what the process is, or if they are even allowed to travel with them because of the batteries they are powered with. The two types of batteries that power mobility products are lead acid and lithium. As a mobility technician, I have found out all of the rules and regulations from the airlines, to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and even TSA (Transportation Security Administration).

It appears that there is a significant amount of fictitious information regarding traveling with a mobility device on an airplane surfacing on the internet. I am here to give you the facts and nothing but the facts to make your life easier when traveling with a power scooter or power wheelchair.

Know the Facts

non-spliable battery fig1

Many believe you cannot travel with a mobility scooter or power wheelchair on an airplane because of the lead acid or lithium batteries they contain. The fact of the matter is, you can. All mobility scooters and power wheelchairs are equipped with non-spillable batteries. Non-spillable batteries are batteries that do not contain water like an automotive or marine battery. It does not matter how big the handicap scooter or electric wheelchair is. This type of technology makes it less hazardous when transporting batteries on a plane. Figure 1 demonstrates a non-spillable battery that are installed in most travel mobility scooters and power wheelchairs. There is no cap that allows water to be inserted in to the battery. These batteries have glass mats that hold the lead in place. This technology allows gasses to disperse evenly throughout the battery container.

When it comes to traveling with lithium batteries they must be handled properly. Lithium batteries for mobility scooters must not exceed 300 amp hours between all batteries in the device. Most mobility devices have two or 24 volts. Some have three or 36 volts and even four at 48 volts. Lithium batteries must be in their own protective cases, with the battery pack or wire harness disconnected from the mobility device. Figure 2 demonstrates a lithium battery pack being removed from a travel mobility scooter.

Lithium battery pack fig2Did you know that all public places must be in accordance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This means that all public places including transportation services must be able to accommodate a disabled person. Did you know a mobility scooter and power wheelchair are both classified as medical equipment by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)?

What this all boils down to is yes you can travel with any sized mobility scooter or power wheelchair as long as the batteries in the mobility device are compliant. The FAA has regulations on specific types of batteries that are allowed on an airbus within the United States. If the batteries are lead acid and non-spillable all battery sizes are allowed to be stowed on the aircraft. Lithium batteries are the biggest issue. Per the FAA any lithium battery for mobility purposes larger than 300 Watt Hours is not in compliance. If your mobility scooter or power wheelchair contains lithium ion batteries, you may want to consider buying a set of non-spillable lead acid batteries as a backup just in case.

Process of Transporting a Power Mobility Device on an Airplane

The process of transporting a mobility scooter or travel power wheelchair on a plane is rather simple. What most people don’t know is that it is also FREE. You do not have to pay any additional baggage fees to transport your medical devices per the FAA and ADA.

Plan Ahead

Upon making reservations, you must notify the customer service representative about your mobility device that you will be traveling with. If the airline tells you otherwise throw out the word acronym ADA and see how quickly you will be transferred to a supervisor. Get ready to give the airline information about your mobility scooter or power wheelchair. All of the necessary information will be found in your user manual. The information that may be asked about is the battery size and battery type, along with the make and model of the mobility device.

Policies and procedures are different from airline to airline and they must be complied with. For instance American Airlines requires a doctor’s note indicating that your mobility device meets medical necessities for your condition. They also require that proper documentation be filled out prior to checking in your mobility scooter or power wheelchair.

Boarding Your Mobility Device

Once you have arrived at the airport, check in and follow the instructions given to you by customer service to further accommodate your needs. At this point your mobility device will be taken by a travel mobility scooterworker of the airline and taken to the plane. Most often you will be transported via standard wheelchair through the security check points. You will also be boarded on the airbus first as you are disabled. You will be transported down the jet bridge and assisted in to your seat.

Once you have arrived to your destination, you will be transported back to the baggage claim area where you mobility scooter or power wheelchair will be brought to you personally. Airline employees are familiar with mobility scooters and power wheelchair so you will be in good hands.

Take Pictures

I would strongly consider taking pictures of your mobility device at the airport, before the device is taken from your possession. Damage claims to your mobility scooter or power wheelchair must immediately be brought to the airlines customer service at the time your mobility device is returned to you. Without any pictures it is hard to claim a damage claim on the device. The airline is responsible for your possessions and sometimes accidents do happen. A worker could accidentally drop or crash your mobility device when loading or unloading your unit. There have also been many damage claims in the past because of turbulence.

Let’s do a simple recap about the most important points about transporting a mobility scooter or power wheelchair. Following these simple guidelines will save you time and money when traveling to accommodate your needs on an airplane.

  • Free to transport per ADA and Federal Laws
  • Notify the airline about your mobility scooter or power wheelchair
  • Get a doctors not and fill out the necessary airline paperwork
  • Take pictures of your mobility device at the airport
  • Retrieve your mobility scooter or power chair at baggage claim

Domestic Flights vs International Flights

ADA logoWhen traveling with a mobility scooter or power wheelchair the laws are different from country to country. Make sure to contact your airline about the proper procedures when coming back to the United States. Any flight within the United States must be in accordance with ADA and Federal laws. This is not the case when dealing with foreign countries. Find an airline that is willing to help you get your mobility scooter onboard your plane home. Planning ahead is the best way to travel, especially when you are traveling with a mobility scooter or powerchair. When in doubt notify your airliner and get the proper documentation to travel with your power mobility device ahead of time. By following this guide on how to travel with a mobility scooter or power wheelchair on an airplane, your journey will be a much pleasurable experience.

Resourceful Links

Below is a list of links that will help you to notify important safety administrations when traveling by airplane.

FAA – Lithium Battery Regulations
Here you will find FAA compliance laws regarding lithium batteries for mobility devices

FAA – Non-Spillable or Dry Cell Battery Regulations
Here you will find FAA compliance laws for mobility devices with non-spillable or dry cell batteries.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Here you will find all ADA requirements and laws enacted by the Department of Justice

United States Department of Justice – Civil Rights Cases Involving Transportation
Here you will find previous and current cases regarding civil rights violations in transportation.

United States Department of Transportation – ADA Regulations
Here you will find resourceful links on Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.