Wheelchairs at the Airport
August 13, 2015 3:03 PM   Subscribe

My fiancé just got his appendix removed and now we're flying to his sister's wedding. (It's been an exciting week.) We leave tomorrow from JFK on Jet Blue and I'm look for advice on navigating the airport with a wheelchair. Will they just have one at the curb? Will I be able to push him or will they insist on having an employee? Any good tricks? Things I might not have though of? Thanks!
posted by dame to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need to call the airline to arrange, then they will have it for you. They will have an escort and reroute you through the airport. It;s great! You get to take a lot of shortcuts and skip lines.
posted by TenaciousB at 3:07 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't done this for JetBlue but I did this for other "temporary wheelchair" travel for both my partner and grandmother and this link on the JetBlue website describes very much what worked well for us.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:09 PM on August 13, 2015

adding- they will plan to have a wheelchair at your destination city as well- and possibly special seating on the plane.

posted by TenaciousB at 3:09 PM on August 13, 2015

Leave extra time for it, for sure.
posted by Dashy at 3:15 PM on August 13, 2015

You might even get lucky and get offered a ride on the medical golf cart! Call ahead!
posted by cooker girl at 3:25 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

YMMV but this is how it has generally worked for us.
First, when we book the ticket, we always request wheelchair assistance, or call to add it later if needed.
In our experience, we have had to ask for a wheelchair when we check in at the counter. (Or when you hand over your luggage if you are already checked in). They then call for a wheelchair and tell us to sit and down and wait for one to come. This can take a few minutes. The wheelchair comes with someone to push it. This person will guide you through security and they will help you both go to the head of the line. If he can walk through the scanner that is the simplest, otherwise TSA will take him aside and do a pat-check. When you get to the gate, they will sometime ask if you can walk from the gate to the plane or if you need the wheelchair ride down the jetway to the door of the plane. Again, if he can walk from the door of the plane to his seat, that is the easiest, otherwise they have to arrange for a special narrow wheelchair to handle the aisle on the plane.

At the other end, they will have a wheelchair waiting for you at the door of the plane, sometime there is a slight delay - depends in part on how quickly you deplane. They will then push you to baggage claim, wait for you to collect your luggage and then push you to the parking garage or pick up spot for your ride.

It is appropriate to tip the person pushing the wheelchair. We usually tip at least $5, more depending on how long they are with us, how many hills involved etc. (But our family tends to be cheap tippers - maybe others can help calibrate that part)
posted by metahawk at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Call ahead. I've had to use a wheelchair in an airport, and the staff were incredibly helpful. (In my case, I was having leg issues and a concerned employee asked if I needed a wheelchair, which I did, so this was unplanned.) This was for an international return flight, so we got to go through a special customs lane. They called for a cart to take me to the gate. I have enormous flight anxiety, but everyone was so pleasant and helpful that they turned one of the most stressful travel experience of my life into the most pleasant. The original staff member pushed the chair while my husband walked besides me. From my experience as a traveler, they'll have a wheelchair at the, uh, walkway that takes you to the gate, if you call ahead. Also, I got my appendix out a week before I had a Girl Scout overnight museum sleepover. Getting a wheelchair for your fiancé is the best thing you can do for him. He might want to bring a towel to keep under the seat belt of the plane. I had to use a pillow pet under the seat belt of the car to keep the belt off my incisions.
posted by Ruki at 4:01 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

One slightly related suggestion: You might want to bring an extra pillow that he can keep on his abdomen so the seatbelt doesn't push directly on the wound.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:34 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

If the airport has a Skycap service in front of the terminal, they should also be able to handle getting a wheelchair for you, as well as check you in and check any bags. It is customary to tip for this service, though.
posted by Aleyn at 6:23 PM on August 13, 2015

Yes, definitely tip your skycap. They're wonderful people and make everything go more easily. When I've needed one, I've usually tipped between 10 and 20 dollars, so mileage may vary.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:27 PM on August 13, 2015

I would definitely call ahead. This will ensure that the wheelchair request is noted in your travel record, and that way a chair will be waiting for you at when you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, you may have to wait quite awhile for a wheelchair and attendant to be arrive.
posted by jaksemas at 7:40 AM on August 14, 2015

Nthing to call ahead. It will almost certainly go very smoothly. Lots of people, especially the elderly, who don't need a wheelchair in everyday life use one at the airport, since it can be a lot of walking/standing/carrying bags for someone who is even a little bit frail.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:34 AM on August 14, 2015

Response by poster: Update: It actually went really badly at JFK.

When we got there things were fine, but once we got to the gate, they wanted to take the chair and basically leave him stranded there for some 2.5 hours before our flight. (We went early because we took a cab and wanted to avoid the worse traffic that would come from leaving later.)

The attendant suggested I go ask at the help desk, then dumped my fiance while my back was turned and ran off with the chair. The help desk was super rude and accused us of not calling beforehand, when in fact we had.* They said we could not have another chair because then an attendant would have to hang out with us the whole time and that was impossible.

We did finally get another chair, which I was allowed to push, but it was not easy.

On the other hand, the Denver airport was great and let me push him and I loved them, so A+ DIA. And every single gate agent was a dream.

* It turns out the wheelchair flag didn't take in the system because we had exit row seats on the flight home, and you, logically, cannot have exit row seats and a wheelchair. When I called back, the woman on the phone moved us to the bulkhead and then everything was fine, the label took, etc.
posted by dame at 6:53 AM on August 24, 2015

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