In Accessible Travel

When booking your flight, you will be asked if you can self-transfer or need assistance, but it might not be clear what it means – for many with SCI, this depends on the situation and how you’re feeling that day. Here’s a guide to what these options mean for airlines and how choosing them affects your trip.

Self-transfer and full assisted transfer are categories airlines use to determine what equipment you will need and how much help to offer when you are boarding your flight. Specifically, these options relate to the transfer from your chair to the aisle chair and the aisle chair to your seat on board the aircraft. 

SELF TRANSFER: If you can move your body weight on your own, with a sliding board or help from a companion, you will be met just outside the aircraft on the ramp with airport staff and aisle chair/Washington chair. Airline staff will help make the transfer to and from the Washington chair as easy as possible, but will expect you can shift your body weight from one seat to the other. Staff will help secure your legs and arms, and fasten safety belts across you to keep you stable. 

Self-transfer into a Washington chair to reach your seat.

ASSISTANCE TO TRANSFER: If you need assistance to transfer from one seat to another, many airlines now use a patient hoist modified for the narrow aircraft aisle, designed to prevent workplace injuries. A specially-trained team will meet you at the gate and use a powered portable patient lift designed for the narrow aircraft aisle to get you from your wheelchair to your seat on board. Airline staff will assist you to don the sling under your body, and then carefully lift you out of your chair, steer the lift down the aircraft aisle, to your seat. The most commonly used model is the Eagle 2 Lift by Australian company Haycomp Ltd., which uses a modified sling similar to what is used on hoyer lifts. Know your sling size and make sure airport staff use the right one for you.

The Eagle 2 Lift helps airline staff transfer travellers.

An in-flight aisle wheelchair is available to assist you to use the onboard bathroom. These aisle chairs are smaller, foldable and less stable than the Washington Chair. This chair is operated by flight attendants, and many have no experience with operating it with an actual passenger. Keep calm, let them know what help you need. It’s useful to know that there is a fold-down footplate on all of these chairs that are often forgotten when they are deployed – don’t be afraid to mention it before you transfer to protect your feet while in use.

The foldable aisle chair can get you to the bathroom mid-flight.

Watch these accessible travel video series episodes on transferring with assistance and transferring independently.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Terry LeBlanc

    Be sure to check whether the Eagle Lift 2 is available at your destination. Although Canada and Australia have embraced it wholeheartedly, only a handful of cities in the USA have it available. Sadly that does not include Hawaii!

  • Joan

    The in-flight aisle chair is not available on all aircrafts. Larger, wide-body aircraft (planes with two aisles) typically carry an onboard aisle chair at all times, but it is important to request that one be available on your flights before you travel. Wide body aircraft include the Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A350 and Airbus A380. If you are not on a wide body aircraft and do not think you will be able to go without the restroom, let the airline check-in agent know and they will load an aisle chair on your narrow body aircraft with more than 60 seats to comply with the following U.S. Department of Transportation regulation.
    Please also note that even if the airline has the in-flight aisle chair it may get you to the washroom, but may not fit into the washroom. So, if you cannot stand and transfer on your own or with an attendant it may not work for you.

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