Mobility-Friendly Travel Guide

Dec 04, 2023
Fact Checked
Explore the world with our comprehensive guide designed to make travel accessible, enjoyable, and worry-free for those using wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.

Key Takeaways

Travel isn’t just a luxury; it’s a vital aspect of well-being, especially for older adults. Travel provides cognitive, social, and physical health benefits to older adults—a group that is more prone to developing difficulties in these areas. But for anyone who relies on mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and canes, the idea of travel can seem daunting.

The good news is that accessible travel is not only possible but also increasingly more common and doable. Numerous blogs and services are dedicated to making travel accessible for everyone. Whether you’re traveling for leisure, family visits, or medical appointments, this guide aims to empower you with actionable information for a smooth and enriching journey that meets your mobility needs.

Planning tips for mobility-friendly travel

Proper planning is the cornerstone of any successful trip, and it’s even more crucial when you’re traveling with mobility aids. About 30% of Americans over the age of 65 living outside of institutions use assistive devices for mobility purposes, both inside and outside the home. Many use a wheelchair or scooter, while the greatest number use canes, crutches, and walkers. Traveling with mobility aids is possible, and can be done successfully by following a few planning tips:

Traveling checklist

Packing these items will help ensure a smooth trip:

Air travel with a mobility device

Navigating the skies with a mobility device requires a bit more preparation, but it’s entirely achievable with the right knowledge and planning.

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a U.S. federal law, first enacted in 1986, which prohibits discrimination against passengers with disabilities in air travel. Under the ACAA, airlines must accommodate travelers with disabilities, including those who use mobility devices. This means airlines are required to provide assistance for boarding, deplaning, and making connections, as well as stowing your mobility device. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the ACAA to understand your rights and what accommodations you can expect.

TSA Cares

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a program called TSA Cares, which is a helpline that provides additional assistance during the security screening process for travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other circumstances. TSA Cares is staffed to provide travelers information on what to expect during the screening process Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m.–11 p.m. ET and weekends and holidays, from 9 a.m.–8 p.m. ET.

A traveler may request the services of a TSA Passenger Support Specialist (PSS), who can provide assistance through security screening. A PSS is a TSA officer who has received specialized training, including how to effectively assist and communicate with people with disabilities or medical conditions, and travelers who need additional screening assistance. You may call the number above or fill out an online form to request a PSS.

Planning air travel with a walker or cane

Air travel with a walker or cane is generally straightforward. Here’s what you need to know:

Planning air travel with a wheelchair

Wheelchair travel involves a bit more planning but is still manageable. Here’s what you should know:

Shannon MacDonald, an occupational therapist in Denver, Colorado, has guidance for navigating airports with mobility devices. Her number one recommendation is to plan ahead and not leave anything until the last minute. She tells her clients to take advantage of TSA PreCheck® and Global Entry in order to reduce delays. She told us you can now complete the TSA PreCheck application at any Staples store in the country.

Laurel McFarland of Parker, Colorado, is 75 years old and uses a cane after her double knee replacement surgery. She recently traveled through Denver International Airport (DIA), an airport that is notorious for long wait times. She wishes she had known about the Staples option mentioned above by MacDonald. She underestimated how long it would take to get through DIA’s security. She began the TSA PreCheck application online and planned to complete it at the airport, but found herself at the wrong end of the concourse without enough time to get to the other side. She was unable to complete or use TSA PreCheck and had to stand in a long, standard security line. She also wishes she had accepted the wheelchair offer at check-in. She told us, “Next time, I’m taking the wheelchair. Who cares what it looks like.”

MacDonald also recommends doing anything that helps conserve energy because airports can be exhausting for anyone—not just those with limited mobility. “Be sure to use any and all services available to you,” she said. “Call ahead to inquire what services the airport has. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help.” Some of her other recommendations are:

MacDonald’s final words of advice were, “Don’t be afraid to travel—it’s so worth it!”

Airline policies for mobility devices

The ACAA requires airlines to have policies to accommodate travelers with limited mobility. Specific policy information by airline follows:

AirlinePolicy summaryLink to policy
AlaskaProvides assistance throughout the airport and allows personal mobility devices up to the boarding gateAlaska accessibility policy
AmericanOffers pre-boarding, stowing, and assistance for all mobility devicesAmerican accessibility policy
DeltaProvides various types of wheelchair assistance and allows personal wheelchairs up to the boarding gateDelta accessibility policy
FrontierAllows wheelchairs, scooters, and other mobility devices on board at no charge, offers designated cabin space for two wheelchairs, and provides airport and aisle wheelchair assistance upon requestFrontier policy
SouthwestAccommodates all types of mobility devices and offers preboardingSouthwest accessibility policy
UnitedOffers assistance for boarding and deplaning, as well as stowing your mobility deviceUnited accessibility policy

Car travel with a mobility device

Hitting the open road with a mobility device requires a combination of preparation and flexibility. Whether you’re traveling with a wheelchair, walker, or cane, a well-thought-out plan can make your road trip hassle-free. Here’s how to prepare for an extended car journey with a mobility device.

Safely stowing a wheelchair

Storing walkers and canes

Renting a wheelchair-accessible car

Additional tips for a smooth road journey

Train and bus travel with a mobility device

Traveling by train or bus can be a convenient and cost-effective way to explore new destinations. Bu, when you’re traveling with a mobility device, there are some things to keep in mind. Here’s how to make your train or bus journey as smooth as possible.

Planning train travel

Planning bus travel

Tips for both modes of travel

Major train and bus line mobility device policies

Transportation providerPolicy summaryLink to policy
AmtrakOffers accessible seating, restrooms, bedrooms, and boarding assistanceAmtrak accessibility policy
GreyhoundProvides wheelchair lifts on most buses and priority seating for passengers with disabilitiesGreyhound accessibility policy
MegabusEquipped with wheelchair lifts and designated seating. Must book 48 hours in advance for accessibility servicesMegabus accessibility policy
VIA Rail (Canada)Offers accessible cabins, priority boarding, and other services for passengers with reduced mobility.VIA Rail accessibility policy
National Express (UK)Provides wheelchair lifts, assistance for boarding and alighting, and designated spaces for wheelchairs.National Express accessibility policy
EurailProvides assistance on boarding and deboarding trains; varies by countryEurail mobility services

Cruise travel with a mobility device

Modern cruise ships are increasingly accommodating, providing a range of amenities to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all. Here’s how to plan your cruise travel if you use a wheelchair, walker, or cane.

Finding wheelchair-accessible amenities

Booking a wheelchair-friendly room

Handling emergencies

Choosing itineraries and excursions

General tips

Major cruise line mobility device policies

Cruise linePolicy summaryLink to policy
CarnivalProvides accessible cabins and public areas; also offers equipment rentalsCarnival accessibility policy
CelebrityOffers accessible staterooms and assistance with transportation and excursionsCelebrity accessibility policy
Holland AmericaProvides accessible staterooms and amenities; also offers sign language interpretersHolland America accessibility policy
NorwegianAccessible staterooms are available; also offers visual and auditory aidsNorwegian accessibility policy
PrincessADA-compliant; offers accessible staterooms and public areasPrincess accessibility policy
Royal CaribbeanComplies with ADA; offers accessible staterooms and amenities like ramps and roll-in showersRoyal Caribbean accessibility policy

Ranking cruise lines accessibility

You might be wondering which of the cruise lines on our list are the most accommodating to passengers with limited mobility and which might not have as many amenities. Ranking cruise lines based on their accessibility features can be subjective, as it often depends on individual needs and preferences. But based on general industry reputations and the range of accessible amenities offered, here’s a tentative ranking:

  1. Royal Caribbean: A cruise line known for its extensive range of accessible amenities, including spacious staterooms, roll-in showers, and a variety of accessible excursions. Their ships are often cited as some of the most accessible in the industry.
  2. Celebrity Cruises: A subsidiary of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises also offers a wide range of accessible features, including assistance with transportation and excursions. Their newer ships are designed with accessibility in mind.
  3. Princess Cruises: Offering a good range of ADA-compliant staterooms and public areas, they also provide detailed information on the accessibility of their ships and ports, making it easier to plan your trip in advance.
  4. Norwegian Cruise Line: Providing accessible staterooms and visual and auditory aids, their range of accessible excursions may be limited compared to others on this list.
  5. Holland America: Known for their older demographic, they offer accessible staterooms and amenities, but their older ships may not be as accommodating as their newer ones.
  6. Carnival Cruise Line: While they do offer accessible cabins and public areas, their older ships may not be as accommodating as their newer vessels. Equipment rentals are included.

Other helpful resources

In addition to the websites already mentioned in this article, the following resources offer helpful information for those traveling with mobility devices:

Bottom line

Embarking on a journey with a mobility device may seem challenging, but with the right planning and preparation, you can experience a trip of a lifetime. From air travel and road trips to train journeys and cruises, many options are available to make your travels simple. The key is to research and consult with service providers well in advance to ensure all of your specific needs are met. Whether it’s securing an accessible room on a cruise ship or understanding your rights under the ACAA, knowledge is your greatest asset. So, don’t let mobility challenges hold you back. With today’s advancements in accessibility and a little proactive planning, you can set sail, hit the open road, or soar through the skies with confidence.

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  1. Global Coalition on Aging. Destination Healthy Aging: The Physical, Cognitive, and Social Benefits of Travel. Found on the internet at
  2. Sehgal, Mandi, et al. Mobility Assistive Device Use in Older Adults. American Family Physician. June 15, 2021. Found on the internet at
  3. Adaptive Living Guide. 10 Tips for Travelers with Limited Mobility. Found on the internet at
  4. U.S Department of Transportation. About the Air Carrier Access Act. Oct. 2, 2023. Found on the internet at
Lauren Sherman, M.S., is a health content writer with a master’s degree in human genetics from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, laboratory experience from National Jewish Health, and clinical experience from Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Christopher Norman Headshot
Christopher Norman Medical Reviewer
Christopher Norman is a Board-Certified Geriatric Nurse Practitioner and Holistic Nurse. As a nurse’s aide, registered nurse and now nurse practitioner, he has loved working with older adults since 2004.
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