↑ Return to Outside accessibility

Print this Page

Accessible Air Travel

The information that follows is about our situation with air traveling with mobility equipment.

Air Travel with a Manual Wheelchair and Power add-on

I have been trying to decide the best way to fly with Rob's manual wheelchair that has attachable Power add-on's.

Planning and booking the flight

We usually fly KLM, but also have used other airlines. In the past, I have often been on the phone many times to make arrangements for traveling with a wheelchair. KLM now lets you arrange Special services' on-line, so I am hoping the process is easier now.

I got some very good ideas from this blog post about Air Travel with a Powered Wheelchair, and used it as a basis for this post, which I plan to re-write once we have done it with the manual chair.

Before you pack you need to understand your air carriers methods of carrying your chair and what they need to take care of your chair properly.

We last flew on Air New Zealand and they place the chair into its own small container so nothing else is packed with it.

Air New Zealand, as with other carriers, needed to know the weight of the chair.  Additionally, some airlines need the dimensions of the chair (length, width, and height).  All airlines will want to know about your battery and how you ensure it is safe to travel with.  Ours is a dry cell battery so the safety is ensured by unplugging it.

Preparing your chair for the hold is a critical process because you don't want to arrive at your destination only to find that the chair doesn't work anymore or parts are missing or broken.  If that happens you will find that there isn't just one company that you need to deal with....it is a whole host of people/companies who have handled your chair and this simply multiplies the denials of liability.

We have always packed the chair as checked in baggage and we never take our chair to the plane for one reason.  Proper packing takes time and you simply don't have the time at the plane's door.  So we arrive an extra hour ahead, obtain the airports wheelchair and transfer my husband and his ROHO cushion into the manual chair.  I then prepare the chair.  The only tool I need is a pair of scissors (see the last sentence here for how to pack this tool for ease of access).

I start by unplugging the tilt button and the motor wires.  I then remove the headrest & footrests.  I wrap the footrests together with some tape.  I remove the controller from the arm rest (being very careful to not twist, or kink the wires which remain tied to the chair) and gently wrap any movable parts with tape. I place all of these things in a large clear plastic bag and place it on the metal seat plate of the chair.  I then take a large roll of cling wrap (about 2 feet wide), and starting near the bottom of the chair but above the wheels, I begin to wrap the entire chair in clear cling wrap.  the cling wrap will seal on itself as you wrap the base, battery and motors, seat and seat back until you've completely wrapped the chair, ending at the top.  The parts can be padded or cling wrapped before you place them in the bag, if you choose.

  • Your chair should be marked heavy and fragile.
  • You should personally show the baggage handler how to lock and unlock the chair.
  • You should emphasize through words and actions how important the chair is to your loved one.

These last steps are equally important.

When I am done, I place the roll of cling wrap in with the chair parts under the cling wrap.  However someone has always taken that roll.  We are trying to figure out how tag it so it doesn't look like the carriers wrapping roll.  The last time we lost the roll Air New Zealand replaced it.

You will need a pair of scissors to help with packing....and unpacking at your destination.  So I put the scissors in the outside of a suitcase before checking it in.  At the destination that is the first tool I will need to get my husband comfortable again.

Once the powered wheelchair is packed and the scissors are put away in your suitcase, it is time to check all  your bags.  Be sure to have your wheelchair tagged as heavy and fragile and have your name tag properly attached.  The airline staff will take your bags as they normally would;  the baggage personnel will take your chair to the hold.  At this point be an advocate and show the airlines personnel how to push the chair - they often want to pick up the chair!  Ensure the handler's careful handling by explaining that your spouse (in my case) is completely dependent upon the wheelchair.

Checklist

The following was copied from the KLM website:

  • Book your flight at least 48 hours in advance and specify your personal needs (special meals can be requested up to 24 hours* before departure).
  • If your flight will be operated by one of our partners, please ask this airline about the services and facilities it offers.
  • If required, have your physician fill out a Medical Information Form (see below) and return it to us no later than 48 hours before departure.
  • Check in half an hour before the normal check-in time. (If you are using an electrically powered wheelchair, please check in one hour earlier.)
  • Make sure you are present at the gate at the time indicated on your boarding pass.
  • Arrange for a travelling companion if your condition requires assistance. We cannot offer you such assistance and the flight crew is not authorized to lift or carry you.
  • Remember to bring any medication you will need during your flight, and make sure it is packed in your hand luggage.

Flying with a ZX-1 and/or Firefly

IATA Battery Rules

Because all airlines can interpret the rules a bit differently, I wanted to check the International Air Transport Association (IATA) official rules about batteries. It's hard to find these documents because they are normally purchased on the IATA website (expensive).

This is the IATA overview of What Passengers Can Carry. I found the section in the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations that covers wheelchairs: IATA 2013 DGR Subsection 2 3. I've copyied the sectionis that apply to the ZX-1 and the Firefly. For the Firefly, also helpful is the IATA Lithium Battery Guidance Document - 2013.

ZX-1 Batteries

12 volt, 15 ah (2). AGM. 5-hr. capacity = 12.75 ah (from ZX-1 Operators Manual). I think this is the battery shipped with the ZX-1, the MK Battery ES12-12 and the charger is MK Model: LS 24/4.

Battery-powered wheelchairs or other similar mobility devices with non-spillable wet batteries or with batteries which comply with Special Provision A123, (see 2.3.2.2).

I the ZX-1 Operators Manual it says:

use only sealed AGM non-spillable batteries that meet DOT CFR 173.159 (d), IATA Packing Instructions 806, and IATA Provision A67

I found this Wheelchair Battery Transportation Policy on the MK Battery web site. It states on the back of the battery that it is “non-spillable”, which means that it rated non-spillable by ICAO, IATA and DOT, meaning no special containers are needed.

2.3.2.2 Wheelchairs/Mobility Aids with Non-spillable Wet Batteries or with Batteries which Comply with Special Provision A123 Battery-powered wheelchairs or other similar mobility aids for use by passengers whose mobility is restricted by either a disability, their health or age, or a temporary mobility problem (e.g. broken leg), with non-spillable wet batteries or with batteries which comply with Special Provision A123:
(a) non-spillable batteries must comply with Special Provision A67 or the vibration and pressure differential tests of Packing Instruction 872;
(b) the operator must verify that:
(1) the battery terminals must be are protected from short circuits, e.g. by being enclosed within a battery container;

I am assuming that the carbon fiber cover will suffice for this. Will electrical tape need to be placed over the terminals?

(2) the battery must be is securely attached to the wheelchair or mobility aid. (see 9.3.16.4 and Figure 9.3.H);
(3) electrical circuits have been Inhibited.

Does this just mean disconnecting the power module cable?

(c) Operators must ensure that wheelchairs or other battery-powered mobility aids are carried in such a manner so as to prevent unintentional operation and that the wheelchair/mobility aid must be carried such that it is protected from being damaged by the movement of baggage, mail, stores or cargo;
(d) where a battery- powered or other similar mobility aid is specifically designed to allow its battery(ies) to be removed by the user (e.g. collapsible):

I am assuming that this does not apply for the ZX-1, and the batteries can be kept on the equipment.

(1) the battery(ies) must be removed. The wheelchair / mobility aid may then be carried as checked baggage without restriction;
(2) the removed battery(ies) must be carried in strong, rigid packagings which must be carried in the cargo compartment;
(3) the battery(ies) must be protected from short circuit;
(4) the pilot-in-command must be informed of the location of the packed battery; and
(e) It is recommended that passengers make advance arrangements with each operator.

Firefly

24V 10Ah Lithium Polymer battery (from Firefly User Manual). In the manual it says "custom hi-power lithium polymer battery", so I am not sure what the brand or model is, but I think it is probably out of Shenzhen in China.

Battery-powered mobility aids with lithium ion batteries (collapsible) , lithium-ion battery must be removed and carried in the cabin (see 2.3.2.4(d) for details).
2.3.2.4 Wheelchairs/Mobility Aids with Lithium Batteries Lithium-ion battery powered wheelchairs or other similar mobility aids for use by passengers whose mobility is restricted by either a disability, their health or age, or a temporary mobility problem (e.g. broken leg), subject to the following conditions:
(a) the batteries must be of a type which meets the requirements of each test in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, subsection 38.3;
(b) the operator must verify that:
(1) battery terminals are protected from short circuits, e.g. by being enclosed within a battery container,
(2) the battery must be securely attached to the wheelchair or mobility aid; and
(3) electrical circuits have been inhibited.
(c) the mobility aids must be carried in a manner such that they are protected from being damaged by the movement of baggage, mail, or other cargo;
(d) where a battery powered or other similar mobility aid is specifically designed to allow its battery(ies) to be removed by the user (e.g. collapsible)
(1) the battery(ies) must be removed. The wheelchair / mobility aid may then be carried as checked baggage without restriction;

I think I had better plan that they might make us remove the battery. I really don’t want to carry a 5 lb. battery on board, along with all of our other stuff, so I hope the previous rules will apply.

(2) the battery(ies) must be protected from short circuit by insulating the terminals (e.g. by taping over exposed terminals);

It looks to me like there are no exposed terminals. I’ll bring electrical tape just to be sure.

(3) the removed battery(ies) must be protected from damage (e.g.) by placing each battery in a protective pouch. The battery(ies) must be carried in the passenger cabin;

Do you think wrapping the battery in bubble wrap is sufficient for carrying onboard? I’ve seen that they may put a lithium battery handling label, so I would want something covering it.

(4) removal of the battery from the device must be performed by following the instructions of the manufacturer or device owner;
(5) the battery must not exceed 300 Wh;

From what I can interpret, the watt-hour rating for the Firefly battery is 10Ah x 24V = 240 Wh [Ah x V = Wh].

(6) a maximum of one spare battery not exceeding 300 Wh or two spares each not exceeding 160 Wh may be carried;

Not that we plan to do it, but this would mean that one spare battery could be carried onboard.

(e) the pilot-in- command must be informed of the location of the mobility aid with an installed battery or the location of the lithium battery when removed and carried in the cabin.
(f) It is recommended that passengers make advance arrangements with each operator.

Gordy_IMG_1283

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *