Flying when you’re in a wheelchair is undoubtedly a lot more complicated than those flying without a wheelchair. I choose to fly with Qantas as they offer a well setup Wheelchair Assistance Service to their passengers with limited mobility. In my opinion, Qantas are one of the leaders in accommodating passengers with special needs, not just in Australia but also within the aviation industry.
In this post, I will try and provide all the information I use and gather to book my Qantas tickets, and tips when at the airport and flying.
One of the most important things to do is to do your research and gather the information you will need to make your airfare booking.
Research the airports: Do your research on the airport to ensure if it’s suitable by checking to see if it offers aerobridges or not. Most major airports in Australia offer aerobridges, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, however smaller airports do not, e.g Hobart and Canberra. Aerobridges make the transition to and from the airport to the aircraft much easier for wheelchair passengers as they can bring their own wheelchair right up to the plane door.
Know your wheelchair: Gather your wheelchair information. Having the information about your wheelchair on hand is essential to book a suitable flight as aircraft’s have restricted wheelchair size limits and regulations. Know your wheelchair measurements and battery type if it’s a power wheelchair.
Qantas Carer Card. If you need assistance when flying, such as assistance with food while on the plane, you can apply for a Qantas Carer Concession Card. This gives you and your assistant a discount on your airfares. When booking with the Qantas Carer Concession Card the telephone booking fee is waved.
Decide on a suitable flight: Having gathered the above information, you can now look a suitable flight. I always decide on the flights first before ringing Qantas to make the booking. I do this by doing a flight search on the Qantas website. Once I have decided on the day and time I would like, I then check out the QF flight number information to check the aircraft type. As mentioned above, one of the most important things to check is which plane you will be flying on as Qantas has wheelchair size restrictions on each plane model. Most Electric wheelchairs will not fit on a Boeing 717 due to the cargo door size being short in height. To find out which plane your wheelchair will fit on, check the Qantas size restriction chart below. Unfortunately, this is where most people run into problems at the airport because they are booked on a flight that can not take the size of their wheelchair. The reason why I decide on my flight and do the research before ringing and booking the flight with Qantas, is Qantas agents don’t check this information at the time of booking and can book you on an unsuitable flight.
Qantas Mobility Size Restriction Chart
Call Qantas to make the booking: When booking a flight with a wheelchair. I find it best to call Qantas direct as I can ensure all my wheelchair information is included at the time of booking. If you want to book your flights online, this can be done, but you must still contact Qantas to inform them of your wheelchair and provide them with your wheelchair information. If you are booking with a Qantas Carer Concession Card, this can only be booked over the phone. When booking over the phone, be prepared to wait on hold for an hour or so as the Qantas line is always busy. There is no special needs line.
Make your booking: The agent will ask for the flight details you would like to book. I find it best to quote the flight number along with the flight day and time. Inform the agent you are flying with your wheelchair or mobility aid and booking with a Qantas Carer Concession Card. They will ask for your Qantas Carer Concession Card number, your wheelchair information, such as height, length, width and weight of your wheelchair and if it has a battery and what type of battery, for example, Gell cell or Dry cell. Because batteries are dangerous goods, you must know this information.
Note: When making a flight booking over the phone with a Qantas agent using the Qantas Carer Concession Card, they will only allow you to book the wheelchair user and carer at the time of booking, and will not let you book for additional people at the same time. I have to book any additional person separately online after I have made our booking.
Wheelchair approval letter: If your flying with an electric wheelchair with a battery, before you fly, you will need to receive a Dangerous Goods Clearance letter for your wheelchair. You do not automatically get a Dangerous Goods Clearance letter at the time of booking. Therefore you will need to email Qantas dangerous goods team to provide your wheelchair information to request the letter in time for your flight. The clearance letter will last one year. You do not need to apply again for the clearance until January the following year.
Check your flight e-ticket details: Once your booking is made over the phone, ensure you check the details and flight information for mistakes once you receive your e-tickets via email. I have discovered a few errors in my time and had to ring Qantas to correct it. I have never had any issue with Qantas correcting the mistakes.
You can also bring two mobility aids or equipment with you with Qantas at no extra charge. So if you have an electric wheelchair and a manual wheelchair, there should be no charge to carry both.
Mobility Aid check-in: If you have a wheelchair to check-in, you will need to check-in via the Customer Service Check-in desk, and provide the agent with your e-tickets and wheelchair clearance letter. You should check-in at least 60 minutes before your domestic flight.
If you want to remain in your own wheelchair until boarding time, you should inform them now at check-in.
They will check your luggage in and tag up your wheelchair. The check-in agent will then radio through and provide your wheelchair information to the special handing crew, so they know there is a wheelchair user for that flight. They will typically ask you to confirm the wheelchair weight and battery type again.
Security check: When you line up for the security check, you will not go through the body scanners but instead be taken through a gate and given a pat-down and screening. Once cleared, you can then proceed to your boarding gate as usual.
Preparing to board the aircraft: They usually ask for passengers who require wheelchair assistance to be at the gate 20 minutes before boarding time. Wheelchair passengers board the flight before other passengers.
When the special handing team come to assist you to the plane, it is a good idea to do a quick run down with them of your wheelchair. I usually show them how to put it in free wheel mode and how to move down the backrest. Qantas typically like to unplug the battery from electric wheelchairs, but because I take my controller off and put it in my bag before I give them my wheelchair, there is no need to unplug the battery as there is no way the chair can accidentally turn on during the flight. I take the controller with me to avoid them having to unplug the batteries and because the controller is breakable if mishandled. I recommend anything detachable or fragile to secure it or take it with you on board. On a few occasions, they have still unplugged the batteries from the wheelchair.
Boarding the aircraft: As mentioned above, most major airports in Australia have aerobridges, which is a much better option for those in wheelchairs. Some airports don’t offer aerobridges such as Hobart airport, which has a portable ramp instead. You can read my review here on my experience at Hobart airport. Some airports, such as Canberra also use high lift vehicles (similar to a cherry picker). In my opinion, these are a terrible option and to be honest pretty scary to be on.
If it is at a major airport with an aerobridge, such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the special handing team will bring you an airline aisle wheelchair which you can transfer to at the plane door. You will need to transfer to the Qantas aisle wheelchair and then onto the plane seat. Mum usually carries me to the plane seat so I don’t need the aisle wheelchair. I believe Qantas also offer a hoist called an eagle lift for people who find transfers difficult. I have never seen or used an eagle lift so I can’t comment too much about it. They also offer a harness while in the plane seat to assist those with sitting, and also car seats for children.
The airline hostess will do a quick personal safety chat with you before passengers board the plane.
Loading your wheelchair: You will generally be able to see the luggage crew loading your wheelchair from your window. As you can see, Qantas usually use a lift to put your wheelchair in the cargo hold. You should also see them getting your wheelchair out the same way.
Leaving the aircraft: When disembarking the plane, you must state you want your own wheelchair bought up to the plane door. They will then bring your wheelchair up to you once the other passengers have left. Again they will bring you the aisle wheelchair to transfer you until you reach your wheelchair at the plane door.
Your wheelchair should be there waiting for you when you get off the plane. If they have not bought your wheelchair up, you have the right to remain on the plane until your wheelchair has been bought up for you. They should have plugged the batteries back in, and you should be ready to start your Wheelie Accessible Adventure.
My experience flying with Qantas has mostly been positive, the service does vary from airport to airport. Of course, there is always room for improvement.
In my opinion, I give Qantas a rating of 4 stars for their Domestic Wheelchair Assistance Service.
* I was not financially compensated for this review. The review is based on my own opinion and personal experience.*