UK Based Travel & Disabled Blogger


How to Survive a Long Haul Flight as a Wheelchair User

A long-haul flight as a wheelchair user can be difficult to manage, but that shouldn’t discourage you. Once you arrive at your destination you’ll hopefully think it was completely worth it. However, before you book your flights you might be wondering how you would manage those particularly long flights. I want to share my tips on how to survive a long-haul flight as a wheelchair user.

1. Special assistance

When booking your flight request any special assistance you will require at least 48 hours before your flight. Do you need an escort from check-in, help through security and into the departure lounge, help at the boarding gate, assistance onto the plane and to your seat? 

Check if the Eagle Lifter (shown in the image below) is available at the airports you will travel to and from. Bulkhead seats on the plane provide extra legroom which helps when transferring from the aisle chair to your aircraft seat and space to stretch your legs.

The airline should allocate a suitable seat for you and your travel companion free of charge. These seats should generally have movable armrests to make transferring easier. Always double-check that you are allocated suitable seats.


2. Wear comfy clothes

Comfortable and loose-fitting clothes are the way to go for any flight but particularly long haul. You want to be as comfortable as possible when you’re sitting for such long periods of time.

It can also feel pretty cold during a flight so remember to bring layers that you can put on to keep warm. Even if you don’t wear them they can be used for extra support at your sides or to lean your head against. (P.S I’m always tempted to take my slippers to wear on the flight).

3. Relax before your flight

I know this can be difficult to achieve since airports and holidays can be stressful and challenging at times especially travelling as a wheelchair user or with a disability. I’m a firm believer that stress can play havoc with our bodies and lead to feeling unwell and other unnecessary problems.

It’s best to relax as much as possible before your flight. Give yourself plenty of time and arrive early. Enjoy a nice meal, browse the shops and watch the world go by, just don’t lose track of time and miss your flight.


4. Bring your own wheelchair cushion

Aircraft seats are extremely uncomfortable and even worse if you can’t move or change position to ease discomfort. By sitting on your own wheelchair cushion you will prevent painful pressure sores from occurring.

5. Sweet dreams

If you’re like me, sleeping on planes is almost an impossible task. I envy those people that fall asleep before the plane has even taken off and remain fast asleep for the duration of the flight. Why can’t that be me?

Anyway, the following items come in handy:

  • A travel pillow will make all the difference and help you to relax without suffering from awful neck pain. My disability means I need to have good neck support so having a travel pillow that gives full support and keeps my neck in a nice position while resting or (trying) to sleep is essential.
  • Eye masks are great for helping you sleep during daytime flights. They are also useful to block out any annoying cabin lights during night-time flights, giving you complete darkness to enjoy your forty winks. Eye masks are also good at blocking out any distractions that might keep you awake such as other passengers walking by or the cabin crew working nearby.
  • A blanket will keep you cosy when the temperature drops. There’s nothing worse than feeling cold when you’re trying to sleep. You’ll usually be given a blanket on your flight, but you can always take your own if you have space in your carry-on luggage. Again, this can be used for extra support or padding to make you more comfortable.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs will drown out all the distractions and background noise. Aircraft noises, overhead lockers slamming shut, screaming babies, and snoring passengers are annoyances you want to eliminate for that precious sleep time.

6. Travel socks

Being inactive for long periods of time increases the risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), especially during long-haul flights. Travel socks increase blood flow which prevents fluid build-up that can occur in your ankles and legs.

My disability means I’m at risk because I can’t stand so I was advised by my GP to take an aspirin before long-haul flights to help prevent blood clots. I’d recommend speaking to your own GP before taking aspirin to ensure it’s safe for you to do so.

During long-haul flights, my travel companion will help me move my legs by doing gentle leg and ankle stretches. Any movement is good no matter how small it is.

7. Stay healthy

Let’s be honest, aircrafts aren’t the cleanest and there’s a higher chance of catching a cold or flu after a flight. Many people believe that poor air quality or recycled air within the aircraft is to blame.

Whereas, it is due to our body’s inability to deal with normal bacteria and fight off viruses after being up in the air. Having a cold or even worse, the flu, can be extremely difficult for me to manage and it takes longer to recover from.

I like to take precautions and limit my exposure to bacteria and germs as much as possible by having anti-bacterial wipes and hand gel with me at all times. I’ll make sure the tray table, seat and seatbelt are wiped down and my hands are always clean.


8. Stay hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated during long-haul flights. The downside to staying hydrated is needing to use the aircraft’s toilet, which can be a challenge for wheelchair users or someone with limited mobility.

I personally choose to limit my fluid intake during a flight and wait to use the toilet at the airport. I must stress that I don’t recommend this method, but it’s important that you make the right decision that is safe and comfortable for you.

If you need to use the aircraft toilet you will be able to use the onboard aisle chair with assistance from the cabin crew.

9. Be productive and entertained

You’re going to be sitting in the same spot for a long time, so it’s best to make the most of it. It could be a good idea to divide up the flight journey into different tasks.

Eating, sleeping, movie-watching, working on your laptop, reading, playing games, listening to music, writing etc. You will be surprised by how much time flies by when you are focused on one task at a time.

Make sure you charge up your phone, tablet, laptop or other devices. Try not to clock-watch or stare at the in-flight map too often.

10. Carry-on luggage

Travelling with a disability often feels like we’re packing everything but the kitchen sink. There are so many essential things that we just can’t travel without. It’s important to pack sensibly and have everything in its right place.

Plan what items can be put in your hold luggage and what items you need during the flight in your carry-on, such as medication.

There isn’t usually a lot of space on planes, so it’s best to know exactly where everything is in your carry-on as it makes it easier for you to find what you’re looking for or if someone is doing it for you.

Tips on how to survive a long-haul flight as a wheelchair user

I hope these tips on how to survive a long-haul flight as a wheelchair user help when you next take to the sky. I’d love to hear from you and know what your tips are when travelling by plane.

You may also want to check out my tips for wheelchair accessible travel.

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Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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19 Responses

  1. Thanks Emma. Picked up a few tips there. I know it sounds a bit gross, but one of the things I do is wear a pair of Tena Lady PANTS beneath my usual pants, as sometimes there can be a bit of a queue for the toilet, and you may get some leakage. If this happens, I can rip them off, bin them, and put a light pad on my everyday pants. It works for me, as it would be impossible to deal with any little “accidents” in an aircraft loo.

  2. Really good post! As a wheelchair traveller I agree about the nightmare about using a toilet at the aircraft, so I decided to use the airport restrooms as much as possible.

  3. I had a nightmare flight on American 2 years ago coming back to Dallas from Florida. We ran into storms and had to be diverted to Austin for 3 hours on the tarmac. I was closest to the window of a packed flight. Even if I could walk doubt if I could have moved. I started stressing, first stomach issues then bladder. I was wearing a Tena pad and panties. By the time we got to DFW the seat was soaked. I was horrified. I had to wait for 2 hours for the aisle chair. The attendant decided to get a cup of coffee from the galley before taking me out. I asked one of the crew why he could do that and they explained he had been working for 12 hours. He was on his way out after I met up with my husband. I will never fly again.

    1. Oh Mary that sounds awful! I’m sorry to hear you had such a horrible experience. I cannot believe you had to wait 2 hours for the aisle chair – that is just a disgrace. Did you put a complaint in about it all? It’s ashame it has put you off flying again, but thankfully not all airlines/airports are like that. I can completely understand how it would put you off, but I hope one day you’ll try it again 🙂

  4. Great post! It is so easy to be ill prepared when traveling as a wheelchair user. Getting everything to the airport is a chore in itself. Thanks for the valuable input of little save some people from having to learn from their own mistakes. And more importantly ease the anxiety for people who are worried about traveling.

    1. Thank you so much 🙂 I’m glad my tips are helpful and its great to hear from people that benefit from them! I hope to do similar posts with my travel tips and advice soon so it was lovely to hear from you as its inspired me to start working on it sooner than later. Thank you 🙂

  5. This sure is a helpful post!
    We recently discovered that persons who are not able to move on their own are not longer allowed to sit near the aisle – they must sit in a window seat. Well, maybe this is better for all walking passengers if there is an evacuation… but sure it puts some extra stress on people who use a wheelchair if they do need to use the toilets on the plane.
    Well and if it come to this: a friend of ours has asked for the aisle chair when booking her flight, when check in for the flight and a third time when she was boarding the plane. Every time the answer was: sure, we have this on board. When she asked for the aisle chair after 3 hours flight she was told by the purser: the aisle chair is loaded with the luggage. We will fetch it for you after landing in another 2 hours…

  6. Thank you for posting this. We are off to Orlando next year with our 2 wheelchair using young people.
    Any advice we can get is gratefully received!
    Must admit toileting is my main worry…

    1. Hi Donna! Thanks for your comment and getting in touch. You all must be so excited about your upcoming trip to Orlando. It’s been a long time since I visited Orlando, I think it was about 20 years, but if there is anything I can help with or travel advice then I’ll try my best to help 🙂

  7. Hi guys.. amazing that you are all openly discussing this… for long haul I have to prepare really well(paraplegic)
    I choose to put an indwelling catheter in and a leg bag on.. and carry night bags to drain into…as for bowels I tend to use senna for 4 weeks running up to the flight and then stop 4 days before the flight… removing cushion and side guards is a’s good to see that you guys are all getting out and about and would be amazing to see you all actively interacting on social media to support each other… I do this in the uk and can be contacted through the matt hampson foundation

    Get busy living guys

    Darrel White

    1. I was really worried about how I would cope with my husbands toilet needs during our 6 hrs plus flight. I think your advice about preparation in advance is really reassuring I actually feel that I can now plan for the event more positively

  8. Hi Emma, thank you for your website. I’m T3 paraplegia planning a 24 hour total travel time of flights and layover times at airports. I’m currently self catheterizing every 2hours using intermittent catheters. I’m wondering if I can be able to rather use the indwelling catheter for my flight. Does the cabin pressure change have any effect on the indwelling catheter. I’m travelling to from Johannesburg, South Africa to Hong Kong onboard Emirates.

  9. Hi Emma, thanks for your great tips. At the age of 70 we are planning our first flight in an aeroplane and that is to visit our son and family in Sydney. We realise what a mammoth undertaking this will be but if we don’t do it now we’ll never do it. It’s great to get relevant information from other wheelchair users so please keep up the great work, it’s fantastically helpful.

    1. Hi Patrick

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It’s great to get feedback and to read that you are planning your first flight to Sydney. I hope it all goes well, but please let me know all about it? I’m glad you found this post helpful and I hope it comes in handy for your flight. Safe travels and enjoy Syndey! Thanks again 🙂

  10. Hi Emma,

    Thanks so much for all the information. I have been looking for blogs from other wheelchair users sharing their travel experiences and your is the only one I have found so far.

    My mother who is a wheelchair user was planning a trip from Mumbai to Melbourne and back. I was told by all the airlines (Singapore/Qantas/etc) that though they have “One toilet in the aircraft which is wheelchair accessible” – the wheelchair does not really go inside the toilet. And my mother is not in a position to get up from the wheelchair (just outside the toilet) and walk inside. Due to this limitation she is decided to cancel her trip.

    Thanks so much for for your blog.

    1. Hi Ojas

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad you have come across my blog – welcome! Hope you find it helpful.

      Sorry to hear your mother has decided to cancel her trip to Melbourne. That is a real shame. I am also in the same position as your mother in that I can not use the toilet on the aircraft. It’s crazy the airlines class the toilets as accessible when in fact they can’t accommodate the aisle chair inside. Hopefully in the future new aircrafts will be built with more suitable accessible toilets.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  11. On long haul flights I just drink a few sips. Then I don’t have to pee. One hour before landing I start to drink again and use the airport toilet after the flight as soon as possible. But in case I have to pee I use a urinal in my seat. Throw a blanket over and just do what I have to do. My travel companion then takes it in a bag to the toilet, empty it, rins it and take it back. This doesn’t work for woman obviously. I have made many long haul flights of 11 hours and more.
    An other big issue is your wheelchair. Don’t assume everyone is treating your wheelchair carefully. If possible remove the delicate parts like your joystick and put this in your hand luggage. The height of the wheelchair is important too. Sometimes the door to the cargo department is only 85 cm high. To load your wheelchair safely it has to be less then this. So if possible remove or collapse your backrest and then tie it to your wheelchair. More info ask Hanneke of

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