Coming Soon: Flying with a Power Wheelchair Inside the Plane

June 30, 2023

A new airplane seat concept that allows wheelchair users to stay in their own chair throughout a flight was revealed last week by Delta Airlines, a move welcomed as a “huge step” by potential customers.

“Unbelievably excited,” is how power wheelchair user and disability travel blogger, Cory Lee, described his reaction after a working prototype of the design was demonstrated by Delta Flight Products (DFP) at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, a symposium spotlighting airplane cabin innovations. Many power wheelchair users now avoid traveling by plane because of the potential risk of  costly damage to their wheelchairs, which often renders them useless.

Though still only a prototype, the design is already generating significant buzz among wheelchair users. It’s hoped that the concept could enter commercial use within 18 months if it passes testing. DFP has already begun informal discussions with the US Federal Aviation Administration.

DFP’s concept seamlessly converts to and from a traditional airplane seat. The built-in seat folds up to allow a wheelchair to be docked into place. The seat would be installed into pre-existing aircraft seat track systems, so would not involve any structural change to the airplane.

When the seat’s in wheelchair mode, flyers are still able to use the tray table – the center console that houses the tray table rises to the appropriate height when the seat conversion takes place. The conversion process, as seen in the video, is swift and smooth, taking around 90 seconds.

What’s perhaps most striking at first look is that the seat maintains the same aesthetic whether it’s in its traditional airplane seat mode, or in its wheelchair conversion. DFP  brought in a disability focus group to give their feedback on every aspect of the design.

The DFP team hopes implementing the concept would be straightforward for airlines to install, though they currently don’t know what costs could look like. Experts estimate the wheelchair version of the seat will likely be close to the price of a standard domestic first-class seat.

The ultimate goal is getting the seat on every airline.

2 responses to “Coming Soon: Flying with a Power Wheelchair Inside the Plane”

  1. James LaBelle says:

    I have been a C 5/6 quad for over 50 years. I recently self published a book “Wheelchair Bound?” A memoir of fifty years pushing. My book looks at some of the difficulties and changes in accessible transportation over the past 50 years. I mention the recent development of the possibility for a wheelchair user to remain in their own chair during a flight. I have visited over 20 countries being lifted and dragged on planes. Aisle chairs make it possible but they present many problems. I would love the option of remaining in my chair during flight. Busses, trains and cabs can do it, why not airplanes?

    • Debbie Kirsch says:

      Indeed, WHY NOT???
      There is a market out there, not just disabled vets, or quadriplegic people! Think of all the elderly, or disabled children who could travel with parents!!
      There’s a HUGE market out there.

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