Whether or not you’re a wheelchair user, everyone has had both good and bad days on airplanes and in airports. There are tons of factors that go into the experience of flying from point A to point B, and many of them are subjective. Airlines can measure certain things, like their on-time rate for departures, how many suitcases they lose or wheelchairs they damage, and customer service ratings. But sometimes, experienced travelers just go with how they feel when they think about flying with a certain airline after a period of time.
I compiled this list of my favorite airlines and airports based solely on my personal experience as a wheelchair user over the last several years. For airlines, I mostly take into account customer service, employee attitudes towards disabled passengers, efficiency, and ACAA compliance (when applicable). For airports, I look at the accessibility of the check-in experience, security, eateries, and bathrooms, as well as the overall experience of moving through and waiting in the airport.
Southwest Airlines. If you’ve never flown on Southwest before, it’s a very different experience than flying on other US domestic airlines. The most noticeable difference is their route configuration. Most US airlines use a hub-and-spoke system, which means that they have one or more city hubs for their connections in different parts of the US. To save money, Southwest doesn’t do this. Their routes tend to be more linear, so you may end up changing planes in smaller cities been one of the bigger airlines.Southwest also doesn’t use an assigned seating system. When you board, the seats are first-come, first-served. That means that as a wheelchair user, you can pretty much set wherever you want, and they tend to set aside the bulkhead rows for wheelchair users.
The top reason why I love flying on Southwest is their outstanding customer service. Hands down, they are the nicest people in the American airline business. They are great at complying with the Air Carrier Access Act, and have never failed to board me first. Depending on what type of wheelchair you’re using, sometimes you can even ride your chair right into the galley and transfer from your chair or scooter to a seat in the first row. This tends to be easier for manual wheelchair users, but I used to do it when I was using an electric scooter and can still take a couple of steps. Then the ground crew will take your mobility device right from the galley and put it in the airplane hold. Southwest only flies variants of the Boeing 737, and the newer 737-800s all have on board wheelchairs for lavatory use.
For Southwest Airlines policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE.
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JetBlue. I have flown JetBlue several times up and down the East Coast over the last years, mostly to Washington, DC and New York City. They are considered a budget airline, similar to Southwest, and while I was a bit skeptical at first, I have really come to enjoy flying with them. Their customer service has been excellent, and I’ve never had a problem with their handling of my wheelchair. I also really like that they have an in-flight entertainment system on their planes, which is unusual to find in a one-class budget airline.
For JetBlue policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE.
Delta. I be the first one to acknowledge that not every single one of my experiences with Delta has been amazing, but especially in the past year, their customer service has been downright incredible. They have waited with me for up to an hour on airplanes until my wheelchair arrived at the door of the plane. I’ve kept in touch with pilots and flight attendants who were interested in the accessible travel work that I’ve been doing. I love that they provide wheelchair users with plastic luggage tags that have scannable barcodes, allowing passengers to track the location of their wheelchairs in the same manner as their luggage. If you are seated in regular economy, you can call and request as a wheelchair user to be placed in a bulkhead seat if available. They will do it if they can, which means a free upgrade to Delta Comfort class. The seats are more or less the same as regular economy, but you’ll have a lot more legroom.
For Delta Airlines policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE.
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McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas). The Vegas airport is always busy, very bright, and often very loud. Almost everyone is usually pretty happy to be in Vegas, so you’ll be surrounded by laughter, conversation, and the “ding ding ding” of slot machines everywhere. I love the Vegas airport because it’s clean and it’s very easy to get around without getting lost. As soon as airport employees see you, they will direct you to the nearest elevator. There is a tram to take you from terminal to terminal, but you can just as easily roll where you need to go during a layover. I also love that there are always wheelchair accessible taxis waiting in the queue as soon as you head out of baggage claim. The bathrooms are clean, large, and always have a spacious accessible toilet stall.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at McCarran International Airport, please CLICK HERE.
Orlando International Airport. Because this is my home airport, I often joke that my wheelchair could find its way around with me blindfolded. Although MCO is one of the busiest airports in the country, it’s not that big (for now), and it’s very easy to navigate. There’s only terminal A and terminal B, and trams head out from the central airport hub to both airsides. The check-in counters can get really busy during the summer when everybody is visiting Disney, but I have yet to come across an airline in Orlando that won’t allow wheelchair users to hop into a priority check-in lane. Wheelchair users will be happy to know that MCO has several companion bathrooms for wheelchair users and families, and they even include adult changing tables. Two can be found near ticket counters for Delta and the Southwest airlines, and at least one in each airside in both terminals.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at Orlando International Airport, please CLICK HERE.
Los Angeles International Airport. LAX may be a huge and busy airport, but it is surprisingly easy to get around, whether flying domestically or internationally. I’ve been in the domestic terminal when flying on Southwest and the Tom Bradley international terminal when flying to and from Asia. The Tom Bradley terminal is much nicer, and it’s filled with tons of high-end shops and great restaurants. I particularly like that some of the restaurants have lowered bar counter areas. However, it’s still pretty easy to get around on the domestic side as well. There are clearly marked signs outside of baggage claim if you need to pick up a hotel shuttle or an accessible taxi. LAX also has several adult changing tables in their accessible bathrooms. You can find one in terminal 1 by gate 14 and another one in terminal 7 next to gate 75A.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at Los Angeles International Airport, please CLICK HERE.
Lufthansa. I’m not going to lie; I get stars in my eyes whenever I think about flying on Lufthansa. Their flights are at a moderate price point, so more or less the European equivalent of Delta or United. However, their service and efficiency are top-notch. It’s a German company, so what else would you expect? On their long-haul flights, their premium economy seating is not that much more expensive than regular economy, and gets you a foot rest, a larger pillow, better food, and a ton of recline. Flight attendants are extremely helpful, and always take very good care of me and my needs as a wheelchair user – especially when I need them to take me to the airplane bathroom in an on-board wheelchair. Their smaller aircraft for flights within Europe are less comfortable and a little more cramped, but they offer food and beverages at no extra cost. They have always brought my wheelchair to the door of the plane within a reasonable amount of time both at US airports and in Frankfurt.
For Lufthansa policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE.
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Singapore Airlines. There are a million reasons why Singapore Airlines is always ranked in the top three best airlines in the world. However, for me, customer service is hands-down their biggest strength. These flight attendants are some of the best that you will ever come across. The food is absolutely incredible. But the care that they’ve taken of my power wheelchair is without equal. On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Seoul, one of the ground crew actually went into the hold of the plane, took a photo of my wheelchair all secured, came into the airplane to find me, and showed me the photo of what my wheelchair looked like in the hold to put me at ease. It doesn’t get much better than that.
For Singapore Airlines policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE
Aer Lingus. The Irish are some of the friendliest, most self-deprecating, and funniest people on the planet. Fortunately, that personality extends to Aer Lingus crew and airport employees in both US airports and Dublin. their planes are a little older, so the comfort isn’t as great as it would be on a newer plane, but their customer service is fantastic, and they’ve always taken great care of my power chair and scooter. Long flights are no fun for anyone, and they’re made a little bit easier by their seemingly permanent state of good cheer.
For Aer Lingus policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE
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Air New Zealand. I know that most people don’t have the opportunity to fly on Air New Zealand because, well, you pretty much have to go to New Zealand. However, much like Singapore Airlines, there’s a reason they’re always one of the top airlines in the whole world. I got lucky and got an amazing deal on a business-class lay-flat flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, and it was probably the most amazing flight experience of my life. The cabin chief was so nice and friendly, and she checked on me multiple times during the flight while I was awake to make sure I had everything I needed. The configuration of the seats requires passengers to get up in order to convert the seat into a flat configuration, and three flight attendants make sure that I was safe and comfortable while they got my bed ready. The food was amazing, and the ground crew in Auckland did a great job of returning my chair to the door of the plane quickly.
For Air New Zealand policies and assistance for passengers with disabilities, please CLICK HERE
Frankfurt am Main, Germany. This airport serves as the hub for Lufthansa, and to say it is large and very busy is an understatement. However, it is absolutely the epitome of German efficiency. I have actually successfully made a layover of 45 minutes – from a late departure and not my lack of planning — thanks to airport wheelchair assistance employees. They have several lounges designed for wheelchair users during layovers, and Lufthansa representatives in the lounges to manage your flight reservations. They also have separate wheelchair/companion bathrooms in the lounges. There are also plenty of places to shop and eat in the terminals while you wait. Wheelchair assistance will come get you in time for you to reach your gate, and make sure you get through the check in process, security, passport control, and boarding without any trouble.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at Frankfurt am Main Airport, please CLICK HERE.
Amsterdam Schiphol, Netherlands. This airport serves as a hub for the Dutch airline KLM, and its codeshare partner Delta. Just like Frankfurt, it’s huge and it’s busy, but it’s a fun airport to wait in. There are tons of places to shop and eat, and you definitely want to buy as many stroopwaffles as you can fit into your carry-on! Schiphol has plenty of wheelchair accessible restrooms, and the locations of elevators are clearly marked. If Amsterdam is your destination, there is a separate lounge for wheelchair users awaiting ground transportation, or if you’re connecting, assistance to your connecting gate, much like Frankfurt. the Dutch are just about as efficient as the Germans, and I’ve never had any problem providing instructions for how to load my power chair, or having it returned to me in a timely manner once they get it removed from the container in the airplane hold.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, please CLICK HERE.
Toronto Pearson International Airport, Canada. Canadians often get “accused” of being too nice, but I will certainly never complain about great customer service at a Canadian airport. Air Canada has a completely separate check-in counter specifically for passengers in wheelchairs or who have other special needs. I didn’t have to wait in a long line or work my way through tons of other passengers, which was really convenient since I was traveling with my two children. There are plenty of places to shop and eat after going through security and immigration (for outbound US passengers only). Canada doesn’t have a national law equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act, so the actual accessibility of toilets around Toronto was hit or miss. Fortunately, the accessible toilets in the Toronto airport were the best I found during my stay in the city.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at Toronto Pearson Airport, please CLICK HERE.
Incheon International Airport, South Korea. This is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, and since 2005, it has been rated the best airport worldwide by Airports Council International every year. It is also rated as the world’s cleanest airport and the world’s best international transit airport. After flying into and out of Incheon to visit Seoul in October 2018, I can attest that these awards are well deserved. Check-in was a breeze, and I was provided with assistance to quickly and easily get me through security and passport control. The airport is itself is actually stunning, with tons of cool places to shop and eat. Although I didn’t get to see them personally, the airport even has a golf course, an ice-skating rink, indoor gardens, and a casino. I was just happy that there were plenty of accessible toilets of the non-squat variety.
For information about accessibility and wheelchair assistance at Incheon Airport, please CLICK HERE.
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Great information once again! I agree that Orlando is a really good airport. I have even stayed at the hotel there inside the airport on a few occasions (not cheap, but definitely convenient). The shops (NASA, Sea World, Disney, and more) are great. Lots of good picture ops, too. And, a pretty good food court (was a bit miffed when I wanted to do ice cream for breakfast and it was closed, LOL!). Be aware of the sides as I was directed to the wrong side by an airline employee when I went to get my luggage). Seattle (Sea-Tac) is pretty good as well with plenty of accessible taxis there. Food is great: take along or sit down seafood, and of course really good coffee! I was surprised to see that you like the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, as it was a mess when we were there last. But, I am glad you found it much improved over what we found as that was many years ago. Germany efficiency won out (just like on the trains!) and I am glad to hear it. Thanks again for all the great information!
You are so well versed in travel and especially wheelchair travel. We are afraid to fly, having read so many horror stories about damaged chairs. It is really a shame because it’s the best way to go. We do love Southwest and that’s what we usually flew before the power chair. Thank you for all the work you have done.
Have you addressed the unbelievable abuse of the “Pre board” on Southwest Airlines? We too have had incredible customer service with them when flying with our son who is physically and obviously extremely disabled and in a chair. At one time over 50 people boarded with “conditions”. It’s deplorable what people will do to get a front row aisle seat!