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Travelling by air with your commode or shower chair

July 13, 2009

This article is relevant to Air travel for people with disabilities

Traveling with your commode or shower chair entails flying and having to deal with airline personnel and airport security – Be prepared!

You are, most assuredly, going to be confronted with one or more potential obstacles. First of all, know your rights! There are numerous resources available on-line from which you may easily glean the specifics using a keyword search for “airline and wheelchair”. For our purpose here, however, suffice it to say that your portable commode / shower chair is a “fragile medical device” which should be “gate-checked” and is not chargeable as passenger baggage. Having your wheelchairs “Gate-checked” means that you will take your portable commode / shower chair through Security, to the gate, and into and down the jet-way. From there, it may either be stored on-board in the closet separating the first-class cabin from coach, or taken down below and stored with your wheelchair in the cargo compartment. The latter method is far more likely, these days, as most airlines, in their efforts to maximize revenue, have eliminated the aforementioned closet and replaced them with more seating. Adequate on-board storage, however, may be available on some of the larger aircraft utilized in international flights.

Let’s walk through the process of successfully gate-checking your portable commode / shower chair at no charge:

Before leaving home, take the liberty of stuffing your portable commode / shower chair carrying case first, with all of your medical supplies and second, with whatever clothing, or anything else, you can squeeze in except for vessels containing liquids or gels. As you will not be charged for this particular item of baggage, you may as well save yourself a few more bucks by filling it up.

Upon arrival at the airline’s service desk, check-in with a representative. Do not check-in electronically at a computer kiosk. Check and, if required, pay for your regular baggage. You can review a chart of all the airlines and their fees at bottom of this article. Note that Southwest Airlines should be your preferred air carrier as, of this writing, Southwest remains the only airline that does not charge for your first checked bag.

Carefully label and tag all of your baggage and instruct the agent at the counter to provide you with gate-check (pink) tags for both your wheelchair and for your portable commode / shower chair. When you are told, (and more likely than not, you will be told), that you have to check your portable commode / shower chair as regular baggage, pay for it or are given a hard time for any other reason, it’s time to get assertive. First, tell the Agent that you have always had your shower chair gate-checked. Second, inform the Agent that the case contains “delicate medical equipment” which, if dropped, or if something is dropped on it, will result in damage requiring the airline to replace a $2,000 wheelchair. I guarantee that you’ll be handed a pink gate-check tag very quickly. Should you experience any further problem (which I have not), demand to speak with a supervisor and take names.

Proceed to the TSA security checkpoint. Inform TSA security personnel that your case contains your commode/shower wheelchair and that it will fit, (albeit snugly), through the x-ray tunnel. To date, following many such security checks, I have yet to have my carrying case opened for inspection.

With the hard part behind you, proceed to your gate, check-in with the Agent at the counter, make whatever seating changes you want / they can make and arrange for an aisle chair to be available, should one be required. When the Agent asks what’s in the case, repeat yet again, “it’s a delicate shower chair”. You will be boarded ahead of the other passengers. Airline personnel, for the most part, well-trained in handling disabled passengers, will assist you down the jet-way along with your portable commode / shower chair, transfer board and laptop computer. After they transfer you to the aisle chair and on to the aircraft, they will stow both of your chairs. Make sure that you take your wheelchair seat cushion on board as storing it in the non-pressurized cargo compartment could result in damage to the cushion. The foam cushions on your portable commode / shower chair will store in cargo without any problems. Finally, when making connections, make certain that both wheelchair and portable commode / shower chairs are brought up into the jet-way and that, one way or another, that they accompany you to your connecting flight where you will have to repeat the boarding process yet again.

Air travel for people with disabilities is a hassle and can be embarrassing and downright uncomfortable. Following the steps in the aforementioned process will not change this fact, unfortunately, though it will make it a little less miserable.



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