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How to Navigate Airports & Airplanes in a Wheelchair

Air travel is no picnic.  From the unplanned workout of lugging your bags into the terminal, to Security, to squeezing past passengers in the aisle of the airplane, it’s exhausting.  Now, try doing it in a wheelchair.

That was among William Keown’s worries.  Mr. Keown, who had suffered a spinal cord injury, had been working with WakeMed Rehabilitation Occupational Therapist Kelly Peterson in the WakeMed Rehabilitation Day Treatment Program.  He told Kelly about a future business trip that would take him across the country and asked her questions about air travel in a wheelchair.  Interested in finding resources for Mr. Keown and other patients, Kelly called Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) for help.

Helping Wheelchair Users Navigate Airports

Kelly’s call went through to RDU Guest Services and sparked a great community partnership.  WakeMed Rehabilitation and RDU, in conjunction with TSA, United Airlines, and other airport services, presented Wheels Up:  Navigating the Airport & Airplane by Wheelchair.  This is a video of the program, during which attendees – most who navigate the world by wheelchair – learned valuable tips to travel by air and talked to others in their situation who had made trips.

A Commitment to Making Air Travel Possible for Everyone

People who thought they could never get on a plane again, learned that there are lots of people in the airline and airport industry who are committed to making air travel for everyone possible.

The video is nothing fancy, but includes great information about who to communicate with before your trip and what to expect.

Candice Bennett, an advocate for individuals like herself who are in wheelchairs and an active member of SpiNet, a spinal cord injury support group, had this to say:

I really enjoyed the Wheels Up program. Having flown 3 times since my injury 4.5 years ago, I was never able to find a central location for information on traveling with a wheelchair and what to expect as well as what was offered to me. I was able to gain information, have some of my previous experience validated, and throw out some of the good/bad experiences that I have had when traveling with my wheelchair for other people to hear about. There was definitely helpful information and I also liked how they did have people in wheelchairs attend. We gave a different perspective to the airport staff. I am so glad to have made some good contacts while I was there too!!