Travelling can be full of adventure! At GRIT, we want to make sure that you get the most out of your travelling adventures, so we want to show you how easy it is to fly with your Freedom Chair.
Checking your Freedom Chair
If you are taking the GRIT Freedom Chair on your trip as a secondary chair, or prefer to be pushed in an airport-provided wheelchair to your gate, you may check the Freedom Chair where you would check your luggage. Because airlines consider your GRIT Freedom Chair as Durable Medical Equipment, you can check it for FREE! The levers are the only part of the chair that could get lost during the flight. We recommend either stowing the levers in your luggage, or securing a strap around the seat frame to hold them securely during travel. The desk agent will take your Freedom Chair, and tag it like luggage. Be sure to put a few name tags on the chair: one on the main frame and other on the seat back (in case they remove one or the other).
Tell the agent helping you check in that the Freedom Chair does NOT fold. This is not necessarily true, but you don't want them disassembling the chair to save space and then loosing a component.
Wheeling to the Gate
If you are taking the Freedom Chair as your only wheelchair on your trip, you also have the option to "gate check" it at your departure gate. You should also get priority boarding as a person with a disability. Generally, how this will work is you wheel all the way down the passenger boarding bridge to the door of the plane. An agent may ask you if you need an aisle chair to get to your seat. If you do, you will transfer into the aisle seat, then you will be wheeled onto the plane in that while they stow your GRIT Freedom Chair below. If you can board unassisted, instruct the agent helping you board that the Freedom Chair does NOT fold. Also, show them how the brakes work so they can more easily lock it in place when it’s stowed underneath the plane. Make sure to either strap your levers to the seat (as shown above) after you get out of the Freedom Chair, or take them with you onto the plane to be stowed in the over head compartment. Also, remove any other small, loose, personal accessories that you have on your chair as these could fall off and get lost during travel.
Arriving at Your Destination
If you checked in your GRIT Freedom Chair before going through security, it will either be waiting for you in the Baggage Service Office, or at the Odd Size Claim area.
If you gate-checked your Freedom Chair, your Freedom Chair will be waiting for you as soon as you disembark the plane. The agents who brought it up to you may ask if you need a push up the passenger boarding bridge since it's typically pretty steep. Don't be afraid to accept - after all, they are there to help make your travel experience easier. However, don't feel pressured to take their assistance if you want to wheel yourself.
Couldn't I Ship My Freedom Chair?
You can ship your Freedom Chair to your destination. We generally do not recommend this option, though. Shipping through a company like UPS will cost you about $100. Going through a bike shipment company (such as BikeFlights.com) may cost you less than that, but you are also risking not having your chair with you when you need it. Shipments can be delayed or have unexpected complications. By flying with the Freedom Chair, you'll be sure to have it with you when you need it. And after all, why would you pay to ship your Freedom Chair when you can fly with it for FREE?!
More rider perspectives
Check out what some of our customers have to say about flying with their GRIT Freedom Chair!
"I don’t have an everyday chair. As far as getting through TSA, and airports, the Freedom Chair itself is really useful . . . because airports are really massive! As far as actually flying with it . . . I would say allocate time to get through TSA. In my experience they didn’t hastle me too bad . . . They freaked out about the levers because they look like batons, but once I informed them of what they were they thought it was the coolest thing ever. It helps that my chair is basically perpetually covered in something, and when I travel I am usually wearing a Spartan shirt or an [Operation Enduring Warrior] shirt so I get a lot of questions.
"I make a point to get direct flights when possible which makes things easier not having to transfer . . . Take it to the gate and check it like you would any other wheelchair. I put the levers in the lever receptacle vertically. It gives whoever is pushing it kind of a handle . . . I make a point to politely, but emphatically, tell them that 'everything that’s a part of the chair better be there when I land.' I’m always travelling with racing gear, so what I do is put all my racing gear in the free medical bag I’m allotted and put all my loose freedom chair gear in that. That’s with me all the time. Nine times out of ten if you declare your parts bag as a medical bag they’ll let you take it straight on the plane.
"When you are navigating the airport it’s a good idea to find someone at the airport. They have those assistants and they’ll help you get to where you need to go. It really wasn’t that big of a deal . . . You really have to expect a human variable; sometimes people are great, sometimes not so much. As long as you approach it like a standard wheelchair, by law and human decency will allow you to gate check it."
"It's all positive! I just have a system . . . One of the advantages of flying with the chair is you board first, and we get bulkhead seats. When checking in luggage, I ask to get pushed through the airport [in the Freedom Chair] because they get you to the shortest lines, and often I don’t even get checked at security. Get there early as well! If I’m not using the levers I can easily fit a bag on my lap. On the other side of TSA I’m on my own. We are first in line. We get there early enough to be #1. They push me down the gateway, and I use the levers as crutches to get onto the plane. I strap my extra cushion down. One guy asked if it folded down but I told him 'No, it doesn’t.' I gate check it, and then put the levers in the overhead bin. We wait until we are the last one out. The porter will insist on pushing me up the ramp. Once I’m deposited in the main terminal, I put the levers in and off we go! We fly a LOT, only Southwest that I can speak for, but they couldn’t be any nicer. I’ve flown with it at least 6 round trips, and no damages – nothin’. No problems!"
"When travelling by myself, I like to check as much of my luggage as possible, so I don’t have to carry it (don’t forget to make use of the curbside luggage check, when possible) . . . Travelling with someone is much easier; that person can carry all sorts of luggage – or better yet, they can load you with luggage on your lap so that you can’t see, and then they can blindly push you through the crowded airport . . . Assign someone to be responsible for your things as they come out of screening. Many times a TSA agent will ask; sometimes they forget. If you don’t have a travel companion to take responsibility, make sure you remind your TSA screener to do so. Your screened items will invariably finish screening long before you do . . .
"I always travel with a canvas bag large enough to fit all of the detachable wheelchair parts. At the entrance to the plane, while I transfer to an aisle chair, Ted transfers all detachable parts from my chair into my canvas bag, which we carry on in addition to our two bags. For the GRIT Freedom Chair, this included the seat cushion, my under-cushion wedge, the levers, the scapula pad, and the foot strap . . . Detailed instructions about how to move and store your wheelchair (every chair is different, as is the level of knowledge of every crew member) will help ensure nothing is damaged . . .
"I read in someone else’s blog that an important key to travelling with a wheelchair is to travel with a rock-star support person/travel companion. I realize that that isn’t possible for everyone at all times, but I admit that it is my most important piece of advice as well. I have been able to do and see so much more just by travelling with an able-bodied person who thinks creatively and is willing to help. At the most practical level while flying, it helps to have another person monitor, collect, and/or carry your luggage . . . There are horror stories about flying with a wheelchair; there are also great experiences. Make sure you allot more time than you’d ever think necessary, and don’t assume that anyone knows anything about your chair."