If using wheelchair while traveling, how to get help, keep your cool
April 25, 2018 | 76° | Check Traffic

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If using wheelchair while traveling, how to get help, keep your cool

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    Travelers moved through Terminal 3 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

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Brian Mattson’s mom is 93. The Agoura Hills, Calif., resident wrote about a less-than-satisfactory experience his mother had with getting special assistance at LAX.

She’s mobile, but she cannot walk the great distances often required by airline travel.

Here is what you need to know to ensure your trip is as smooth as possible:

>> If you need a wheelchair or use a wheelchair, make sure you indicate this when you book your flight and reconfirm this before the original flight as well as any connecting flight.

>> Know that in most cases, the people who provide the wheelchair service are not airline employees but contractors. In my experience, the communication with those contractors about who needs help, who needs urgent help because of flight times and how to prioritize those often contradictory needs varies. Thus …

>> The key to chaos control in travel is to build in extra time. You can be stranded in a wheelchair-no-man’s-land (I often sat for 30 minutes or more) waiting for what seems like eons if you are trying to make a flight.

>> The extra-time dictum isn’t just about timely transport to gates, said Cory Lee of the website Curb Free with Cory Lee: Sharing the World From a Wheelchair User’s Perspective.

“I frequently fly out of Atlanta and the way that parking is set up for the international terminal, you have to ride a shuttle bus from the parking deck to the terminal,” he said in an email.

Not all the shuttles have wheelchair lifts, he said, “so it often takes up to an hour for an accessible shuttle to appear.”

“What I’ve started doing … is calling the airport shuttle number about 20 minutes before I get there.”

>> Do not, not, not back down from asking for assistance. You have a legal right to it.

“Wheelchair assistance is indeed mandated under the Air Carrier Access Act,” said Candy Harrington, a co-founder of Emerging Horizons, which she describes as “an accessible travel information source.”

“When you are talking about an arriving flight,” Harrington said in an email, “then the rule is that the wheelchair has to be there by the time the last person is off the plane for ‘prompt’ wheelchair assistance. …

>> “Before flying anywhere, research to see if there’s a number online for the airport’s special needs department,” Lee wrote. Enter it into your phone so you can call immediately.

>> If you’re struggling to get what you need, ask to speak with a complaints resolution official, or CRO.

“If an employee doesn’t know who the CRO is, then ask to speak to a supervisor,” Harrington wrote, “as they most certainly know who the CRO is; they may even be one.

“In any case the CRO is specially trained to solve disability related problems and has the authority to do so (under the Air Carrier Access Act) — even over airline contractors.”

>> As with most adventures and misadventures, one key to dispute resolution (after asking nicely and making sure you’re armed with information about the law and about services) is to keep your cool.

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