You can let the airline know as soon as you make your reservation. They need to know whether you will be traveling with a caregiver and whether you will be bringing a wheelchair with you or will be using one at the airport.
Call TSA or reach out to AskTSA at least 48 hours before. They will be ready for you or will explain their procedures in Desmoines.
Just to let you know, I called TSA Cares, Southwest, and Hotels. I was amazed at their willingness to assist. Our departing airport (DSM) even called us to confirm. Also, we rented a wheelchair in Las Vegas. They will deliver and pick-up to hotel free. I am so grateful for all these services and Thank AARP for directing me. Less Vegas, here we come!
If you know what kinds of assistance that you will need from the airlines, let them know now. Put it into your record. If you need a wheelchair or be bringing your own, etc.
For TSA help contact them about 48 hours before departure. Contact askTSA or TSA Cares. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint.
"The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST, excluding federal holidays. After hours, travelers can find information about traveling with disabilities and medical needs on TSA's website. To learn more click here.
All travelers can contact TSA using Talk To TSA, a web-based tool that allows passengers to reach out to an airport Customer Service Manager directly, and the TSA Contact Center, 1-866-289-9673 and TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov, where travelers can ask questions, provide suggestions and file complaints."
I aranged to have a wheelchair meet us at the check in gate. We flew Business class, although more expensive she had plenty of seat and leg room, the seats we selected were close to the restroom so she did not have far to go. She was allowed to be the first on the plane so that she could be comfortable before others got on, and we waited until all the cabin was empt before leaving the plane. I had also arranged a wheelchair at the end of our journey, and the airline graciously sent one of their golf carts so that we could all travel together.
If passengers have the money to spend on first class tickets, by all means go ahead and spend. However, most travelers cannot pay the first-class or business-class airfares and find themselves flying in coach seats.
I have found that when notified well ahead of travel, airlines will provide seats up front of the cabin for those who are wheelchair bound. Make sure to ask the airline ahead of time.
Airlines can be wonderful with having electric carts waiting and wheelchair assistance from curb to plane, but it must be planned ahead of time. Ask, ask, ask.That is the way to get through the airports and airport security.
Also, when being moved through the system in a foreign airport where there are waystations and holding areas for the handicapped, make sure to be assertive. Let the assistants know that your flight is leaving and make sure that you get to the gate on time.
Once, in Spain, the system forgot us in one of the waiting zones and we almost missed our connecting flight. So, pay attention. The systems work well but be alert to possible problems.
I travel with an older relative who has very little difficulty getting around and no currently diagnosed cognative difficulties, but her hearing is somewhat impaired and the noise level at the airport causes her some trouble. Unfortunately, if you can't understand what is being said to you, security can be extra scary. We had an incident last trip where security was trying to ask her if she had a pace maker or hip replacement (in which case she would skip the full body scanner). But as she didn't understand them and I was already passing through the scanner, she was gently pulled aside. By they time I turned around and could assist, she was already starting to panic. Honestly, security was nice as could be and were quiet upset to see the distress their action was causing. I guess I just need to stick closer to her next time. FYI, I did have it put on her ticket that she was hearing impaired. But I expect that would really only have helped the airline personnel.
Always, always when traveling with anyone who needs wheelchair assistance, make sure to contact the airport and airline prior to arriving. The earlier the better. In the US all airlines are required to have wheelchairs available. Information is available for all airports via the internet. However, without prior notification, it can be difficult to get immediate wheelchair help.
In Europe and some US Airports there are concierge services that provide help for a price. All airports have free assistance. However, it varies widely.
In Europe many of the wheelchair assistance program require 48 hours advance notification. These programs will meet passengers at the curb and take them to their gates. Some even have private buses that run through tunnels under the runways.
If you buy your ticket(s) online, be sure to indicate that you will traveling with a person in a wheelchair. That way you are notifying the airline and the information will be indicated on the ticket. I've had some adventures as a caregiver for a person in a wheelchair travelling through airports, but always had very good assistance. The best advice? Travel first class! It was much better than all other seat assignments. We only did it once, the last time we traveled, but we both were in a better mood at the end of the flight.