On every Air India flight from Mumbai or Delhi to the US, one can find at least two dozen passengers who have opted for the wheelchair facility, according to a report on The Economic Times in 2016. Even the youth is resorting to the wheelchair facility offered by many airlines for their parents traveling to the US. This is highly beneficial in two scenarios. Firstly, if you have parents who have issues of mobility, due to their old age or other health issues, it comes as a boon.
Secondly, if your parents do not understand English or are generally hesitant to travel alone, they can travel stress-free without being concerned about boarding and in-transit formalities. So, if you want to ensure a smooth and effortless journey for your parents traveling to visit you in the US, just as I did the last time my parents visited me, here are three major carriers who provide this facility.
If your parents are traveling by Air India, pre-book wheelchairs at the time of booking the tickets to avoid last minute delays or unavailability of wheelchairs. This is because wheelchair passenger numbers are restricted on flights due to safety concerns in the unlikely event of evacuation. You should contact the airline at least 72 hours before the date of departure to confirm the pre-travel assistance, and 48 hours prior to the journey if you want the assistance only from the airport onwards, according to Air India Guidelines. All requests are recorded at the time of check-in; with the commander and cabin-crew being fully aware of this information, including any medical history, so that they can act accordingly. After departure, messages are sent to all en-route stations and destinations to assist passengers to connecting carriers or to the baggage hall at the port of arrival. Here are some things you need to know:
- Medical clearance is not required for passengers who just want assistance to embark or disembark from the plane or require in-transit wheelchair assistance. If your parents are permanently or chronically incapacitated, you can get a Frequent Traveller’s Medical Card from the medical department of the carrier, which will serve as medical clearance as long as the card is valid.
- If you are bringing your parents to USA for treatment for a serious illness, which has made them totally immobile, you will need the attending doctor to fill up an MEDIF form, which will be submitted to the Air India medical services department for clearance. Please note that if the disease is contagious, or could compromise the safety and scheduled route of the flight in any way, the airline could deny transportation.
- Passengers who need continuous supply of oxygen are not booked on non-stop flights.
- Your parents can avail their own wheelchairs too, if you notify the airlines regarding the height and weight of the equipment, 48 hours prior to departure. Air India accepts assistive devices with batteries as checked-in baggage, as well as inside the cabin. The batteries should have at least 150% charge to last throughout the flight.
- Your parents won’t be allowed to travel alone if the airline establishes that the passenger cannot communicate efficiently, cannot physically assist in evacuation or cannot self-administer drugs and food, or use the lavatory without assistance.
Air India provides these facilities free of charge. It is an ideal choice for Indian parents traveling abroad, owing to the presence of cabin-crew who are well versed in Indian languages.
Etihad sorts its requests for wheelchairs into three main categories:
- WCHR: If your parent is unable to walk long distances, but can use stairs and walk to the seat.
- WCHS: If your parent is unable to walk long distances, and unable to use stairs, but can walk to the seats.
- WCHC: If your parent is absolutely immobile.
For the WCHC category, you will need to book your tickets at least 72 hours before the departure date. In such cases, your parents will be allowed to travel alone only if they can communicate regarding their understanding of the procedures, self-administer drugs and food, take care of personal needs in the lavatory and physically assist during evacuation. The airline will accept personal wheelchairs as baggage without charge and in addition to the free baggage allowance, provided that conditions are met. For US-bound flights, they especially have a priority space in the cabin for storage of one folding wheelchair. This is available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to information on the Etihad website.
This airline recommends that you notify them regarding wheelchair assistance at least 48 hours prior to departure to provide any assistance before, during and after the flight. Wheelchairs are available at all airport locations, including transportation from the terminal entrance (or a vehicle drop-off point adjacent to the entrance) to the boarding gate, making connections (if applicable), and transportation from the aircraft to the terminal entrance (or a vehicle pick-up point adjacent to the entrance) at your destination, according to information on the Emirates website. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- They accept motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs and assistive devices, although there are restrictions on the size and specifications.
- Wheelchairs that can be folded are allowed inside the cabin, a on first come, first served basis. Or you can send the wheelchair with the checked-in luggage.
- Specifications of a battery powered wheelchair have to be provided to the airline 48 hours prior to the flight, and in such cases, the check-in time is one hour prior to the scheduled time of departure, so that the equipment is handled with utmost care.
- Medical equipment, including two assistive devices approved for transportation in the cabin, do not count towards the number of carry-on bags a passenger is allowed free of charge.
- If your parents require oxygen support throughout flight time, the airline has onboard oxygen facility, provided you inform them 48 hours prior to departure. You also have to submit a form duly filled by your physician in such cases, as mentioned in the guidelines of Emirates Airways.
In case you are not travelling with your parents, it would be a good idea to tip the personnel who would assist in moving the wheelchairs. This would be a gesture to show your appreciation of the help you have been rendered to ensure that your parents reach you safely. Make sure your parents carry some cash in dollars for this purpose.