Items that Make Flying with a Physical Disability More Enjoyable and Independent

There are a few products or items that can make flying with a physical disability more enjoyable and independent. They can be the difference between enjoying the flight instead of just enduring the flight. And a more enjoyable flight is a faster flight. I am not receiving compensation for recommending products, and am providing provide links to my recommendations to the recommended products, and am including the links for

Please see My Physical Abilities for more robust information and context as to why these items are helpful.

Must-Have Items on the Plane

These items are necessary for making flights with my physical disability more enjoyable. I take these items on every flight.

  • Simulaids Soft Stretcher (available Direct and at Amazon)
    • This is THE critical item to make flying with a physical disability more enjoyable. I will not fly without it. And every gate agent, lift assist crew, and flight attendant comments that these should be standard for all aisle chairs.

      To use, I put the stretcher under my body before we start the pre-board process. This process can be done by a companion or even possibly at home/in the car–security has not made me take it out, although they probably could at some point. I pull the bottom end so it sits just above my knees, and the top end (labeled “head”) goes to about my mid-back. There are six handles, one in each corner and one on the two side middle edges. The lift assist crew can then lift me using the four corner handles–I don’t like the middle handles because they make the stretcher too straight and I can slide out, whereas the four corners create a nice cradle/sling. The soft stretcher evenly distributes my weight, cradles me so I don’t fall, and the handles are easy for the crew to grasp.

Note the two “Claim at Gate” tags–one with the luggage claim and visual inspection tags, and the other on my steering column

  • Key lanyard to secure scooter key during flight
    • I take my key with me when I fly. I used to put it in my backpack or pocket, but was always afraid of losing it during the jostling of the aisle chair or the flight itself. Plus it would take time once I was transferred onto my scooter to dig the key out of my backpack. Having the key attached to a lanyard that I can easily take on/off my neck has been a game changer–simple hack, but highly effective method for easily accessing and storing it without risking losing it on the plane.
      • I also always have a back-up scooter key in my wallet at all times.
  • Fully charged phone (and computer)
    • I fully charge and preload my phone and computer with downloaded movies, music, and work that I can do on the plane. I also open all of the apps/programs I want to use before I board the plane–some apps will not open properly if the app is opened for the first time while the phone is in airplane mode/has no service.
      • I have used a model of the Dell XPS 13 series for years–it has proven to be ultralightweight (~2.5 lbs), has a great battery, and is durable. I opted for the non-touchscreen version due to its lighter profile and better battery life.

Good-to-Have Items on Plane

When I am on the plane, I try to pack everything into my zipper bank bag that I will need to make flying with my physical disability more enjoyable. My bag is customized and attaches under my scooter seat with magnets for easy removal, but it is very similar in size and storage function to these zipper bank bags from Amazon.

I thus have everything I need in a small bag, which gives me more independence–I don’t need to depend on my companion or the flight attendants to get items from backpacks or carry-ons during the flight.

  • Noise Cancelling Headphones (Bose Quiet Comfort II)
    • I was resistant to spending money on noise cancelling features for years, but was wrong–they are game changers. Noise cancelling headphones help ear health by blocking out the constant engine noise (which is at a high decibel), and not having to turn other headphones on really loud to hear music or movies. It also helps with chatty seatmates. 🙂
      • My Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II stopped recharging after a few months, but Bose replaced them free-of-charge and with minimal inconvenience–they have been working well ever since, and I appreciated Bose’s customer service. My companion loves her bigger Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones, but I prefer the very small and portable size of the QuietComfort II.
  • Bluetooth Audio Transmitter (MEE Audio Connect)
    • This audio transmitter plugs into the audio jack of TV screens on airplanes (as well as computers and phones with headphone jacks). The transmitter then connects the TV/computer/phone to my noise cancelling headphones, so I can watch without needing corded headphones. It has a long battery life, and can support two different devices at the same time (e.g., my companion and I can both watch the same movie).
  • Portable battery pack for phones
    • I prefer the battery packs that have multiple charging cables permanently attached to them–it makes recharging a one-stop process rather than having to dig out other cables.
  • Flight Shirt
    • I was always cold on flights…until I found a James Perse Alpaca “Baja Hooded Sweater.” This shirt keeps me warm to my core–even on long flights. The hood and front pouch make it cozy and versatile. I absolutely love it, and it has made flying a much more enjoyable experience. So much so that I almost added this as a must-have item. Your shirt can be anything, but the takeaway is to find very warm and comfortable clothing for those long flights–the flights always feel twice as long if I am cold (which makes me weaker as well).
      • Tip: There is a correlation between wearing nicer clothes and being treated with respect. It doesn’t need to be a suit and tie, but flight crews listen better to my instructions and respond better to my requests when I wear nicer sweaters and dress pants than when I wear my shorts and a sweatshirt. It shouldn’t matter…but it does.
  • Hand Sanitizer
    • Hand sanitizer almost goes without saying, but I included it anyway because it is extremely important on a plane. I cannot get to the bathroom during the flight, which also means I can’t wash my hands for the entirety of the flight. So I have to solely rely on hand sanitizer for the duration of the flight. It is amazing how many things we touch on an airplane (e.g., seat belt, tray table, arm rest, food and beverage containers, backpacks, phones, etc.).

Accessible Items in Carry-on

These items make flying with a physical disability more enjoyable, but are not essential during the flight. Rather, they are helpful at the destination (e.g., tracking my scooter, making the destination more accessible). This list is in addition to my DMEs.

  • Apple AirTag (available at Apple and at Amazon)
    • I duct taped an AirTag under my scooter seat. I can now track my scooter anywhere it goes, which is especially helpful if the scooter is ever lost or left behind by an airplane.

      Case in point: I once had a gate agent at arrival tell me that my scooter was not loaded on the plane when we left, and so it was not there for my deplaning. After a moment of panic, we checked the AirTag and saw that the scooter was actually with us–the baggage crew had unloaded it without telling the gate agent, and was in the process of bringing it up the nearby elevator. Panic avoided.
    • Note: the AirTag works off of Bluetooth signals from phones. This does not always work when my scooter goes from the jet way to the storage hold–there just aren’t enough phones available. As such, I have had my scooter show up as not being on the plane even though it was. I suggest not relying solely on the AirTag to confirm the scooter is properly loaded before takeoff (or freaking out if it shows it is not onboard). Rather, ask the flight attendant to confirm with the pilot or gate agent that it is loaded. The AirTag is more reliably used to track the wheelchair/scooter at your destination once it is unloaded.
  • Portable Toilet Seat and Duct Tape (for securing to toilet)
    • I don’t have a preferred one, and have used ones that are soft (like this) or hard (like this or this). They all fit within a standard carry-on suitcase. If I need to travel especially light, I’ll order one on Amazon and have it shipped to the hotel (and try to time it to for my arrival to the hotel).
  • A Portable Ramp
    • The portable 2-foot ramp is one of those things that is not often used, but vital when called into service. My ramp is small enough to put under my legs on my scooter (barely)–it’s not the most comfortable, but better than asking someone else to carry it all day. Its flaps are also helpful to soften the angle at the bottom of the ramp. My companion can put it down when we need it. It has saved many a day when one small step or curb stood between us turning back instead of continuing on to adventure.
      • Tip: I put red duct tape on the corners of the ramp to help make it visible when it is stored on my scooter–I have had a few close calls with people walking too close to me and almost scraping their legs on the sharp edges of the ramp. We also put a lashing strap around it to keep it from banging, rattling, or flopping open when we move it.
  • 4-Wheel Rolling Carry-On suitcase
    • Our 4-wheel rolling carry-on suitcase opened up my independence by allowing me to push it by myself. I still cannot lift it by myself, but I just have to put my hand on it and I can use my scooter’s power (with a little grip strength) to maneuver it around–it wheels that well. We used to have a 2-wheel one, but I could not maneuver it by myself.
  • At least two gait belts for assistance with transfers.
  • A long power cord for charging my scooter (and any power adapters/converters)
  • Anything else for bathroom and shower needs
    • This will depend on your personal needs as most bathrooms do not have a lot of accessible equipment besides a shower chair and handheld sprayer. I prefer to not risk missing something vital, and so I will pack things like plastic bags to protect my scooter from water and a portable bidet.

Please contact me with any other ways you make flying with a physical disability more enjoyable and independent.

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