Five common fears wheelchair users face transferring onto aircraft

We spend a lot of time listening to our customers and their fears when transferring onto an aircraft. As well as the concerns from occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals when they assess peoples fitness to fly. We thought it would be useful to share with you the top five most common fears we hear about from our customers, in relation to transferring on and on aircraft and more importantly, how these fears can be managed.

1. Being physically lifted under the arms and legs – yet it happens all to often and causes a lot of discomfort and injury to wheelchair users

For anyone who hasn’t flown before or who is not aware, wheelchair users who are unable to transfer themselves, have to be lifted manually by two or more people. This is either done by staff or family members, lifting the person under the arms and legs.

Being lifted under the arms and legs exposes both staff and the wheelchair user to severe injuries. Often wheelchair users are left with sores or bruising from being lifted which can take days and in rare cases weeks or months to recover from.

For the more travel savvy/aware wheelchair users, they will use a transferring sling or a hoist to remove the need for being physically lifted under the arms and legs. A much safer and more preferred method for those users, including the staff and or family members. And especially in times of COVID, as it helps reduce the amount of close contact.

2. Maintaining safety and comfort whilst sat on an aisle chair

Aisle chairs, probably one the most inadequate seating solutions for wheelchair users. With all aircraft having extremely narrow aisles, leads to the design of narrow aisle chairs. Aisle chairs are used to transfer a wheelchair user from the cabin door to and from the aircraft seat. Aisle chairs offer minimal support, often lack in safety straps, and provides little comfort at all. It doesn’t help all have different designs. Of course, they are there to serve a purpose but often become a falling block for certain wheelchair users who cannot sit in them (quite literally) – excluding them from being able to fly at all. To maintain greater safety and dignity on aisle chairs, the ableSling allows for a cushion to be placed inside offering pressure relief, also straps for the legs and chest are also advantageous for extra support and safety.

3. Lack of transferring space within the cabin for transfer to a seat
Particularly on single aisle aircraft where space is so limited, transferring from the aisle into a bulkhead seat or a window seat can make this process extremely challenging. Often you will see two people hunched over (front and back) to transfer to the seat. The same can also be found on twin aisle aircraft. The other major issue is being able to transfer from the seat to the toilet and transfer from the toilet into the toilet. For many this process is just not possible. We have a range of products that can help make these experiences more dignified, safe and comfortable. The ultimate solution here of course is the wheelchair in the cabin solution. You can read more about that here in our aviation survey blog:

4. Not being able to communicate with airport staff that don’t understand my language let alone my disability

There is nothing worse than the anxiety going through you before you’re about to be transferred on or off the aircraft by staff who have never met or lifted you before. They may not know where best to lift you, or how to lift you. Another key factor with transferring is the coordination between you as a wheelchair user and the staff lifting – again this can be a major issue. Often staff are always keen to get you on and off as quickly as possible, and of course this can effect the quality of communication and subsequently the lift. Asking cabin crew to translate or get a translator is the best thing you can do here. If this won’t be possible, perhaps try having written instructions for your own specific lifting needs written into your destination home language before you travel.

5. Fear of falling or being dropped
Without a doubt, the main concern when being transferred is the fear of falling or being dropped. It is no surprise why wheelchair users can be so fearful when boarding and disembarking, we hear the horror stories of people being dropped onto the floor regularly. Whilst you can’t control what others do, being as prepared as you can be using some of the hints and tips in this article is going to be your main protection against being dropped or falling.


There you have it, five common fears wheelchair users face transferring onto aircraft. The days for when wheelchairs are onboard an aircraft can’t come soon enough though in our opinion.