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Storing wheelchair in the cabin

New Arrival

This is mostly kudos for Southwest after I was allowed to store a compact, folding wheelchair for my 93-year-old mom in the closet in the front closet of the plane.  Most major airlines have such a policy to allow in-cabin storage, but that policy is uniformly ignored by gate staff and flight attendants.  There seem to be a million and one reasons why the wheelchair can't be accomodated and must be gate checked--but the real reason is never mentioned, which is that the closet is to be reserved exclusively for flight staff luggage.  I stopped flying AA because of outright hostility on the part of gate staff to honor this published policy.  I eventually stopped asking on UAL because I got tired of the excuses.


On a recent SWA flight I informed the gate attendant that I wished to store the wheelchair in the cabin and was told that would be fine.  True, there was about 5 seconds of grumbling as the flight attendant bag was switched to an overhead compartment, but the wheelchair was quickly stowed with room to spare.  This saved me so much headache on arrival, as I was able to quickly transfer my mom without waiting planeside for the chair.  Also, at least half the time when the chair is stored under the cabin it get smooshed and comes up stuck in a folded position, and it's all I can do to open it.


This was our first set of flights ever on SWA, and I must admit that I was impressed with the customer service in general--not just with regard to the wheelchair.  It would be nice if there was immediate acceptance of the onboard storage without any grumbling, but our experience was so much better than on the other major airlines that a little grumbling is a small price to pay for this great convenience offered passengers with physical challenges.


I should mention that according to the published SWA policy this option for a "standard-size, adult, collapsible wheelchair" is first-come, first-served, and storage may sometimes be in the rear of the aircraft.  SWA Published Policy


Re: Storing wheelchair in the cabin

New Arrival

I recently tore my ACL and meniscus and have bone bruises that leave me non-weight bearing for two months before I can have surgery. It's a complete nightmare and totally out of my normal operating procedures to have to depend so much on others for help. I called ahead of time to find out the policies for transporting a wheelchair and was told that every plane is equipped with storage on board for a wheelchair and it’s first come, first serve.


On our flight from Denver to Baltimore, the ground crew and flight attendants were AMAZING. They not only stowed my chair, but assisted with my crutches and my and my husband’s bags.


The flight home, however, was a different story. When we inquired about stowing the chair, the gate agent said it was up to the flight attendants if I could store the chair on board. The man who wheeled me down was adamantly opposed to it and said multiple times there’s no way it would fit (when we knew this wasn't true since it fit perfectly on the flight out). Once on board, I asked the flight attendant at the front of the plane who said yes and started removing her things, but a different flight attendant came from the middle of the plane and said no. The female flight attendant told me I was the first passenger in her three years working to ever request it, but that she would have gladly done it for us. At that point, we were completely disgusted by the whole experience and just allowed them to gate check the chair.


Does that say flight attendant bag storage?Does that say flight attendant bag storage?

Once we were seated, we clearly noticed the label on the storage that indicates that’s what the area is specifically for. So my question is this: How can some Southwest employees be well trained and know the policy while others are completely unaware of it? And how is it okay for the ones that don’t know about it to be so rude? Especially an employee that never boarded the plane and would have absolutely nothing to do with where it was stored? We are loyal Southwest customers and this is not what we have come to expect from a customer-service oriented business such as Southwest.

Re: Storing wheelchair in the cabin

New Arrival

I am sorry to hear about your experience on the 2nd flight, hopeshuler97.  I would encourage you to tweet about your experience to the Southwest corporate account.  This seems to be the best way to get attention these days.  As you say, being able to store the chair in the cabin is a huge advantage, and this is one other way that Southwest can beat its competitors in caring for its customers. 


Here is what the Southwest Website says: "Each aircraft is equipped with a specially designed wheelchair storage compartment to allow in-cabin stowage of at least one standard-size, adult, collapsible wheelchair. If the wheelchair compartment is not occupied by another Customer's wheelchair, other assistive devices may be stowed within it. On our 737-700 Series aircraft, the wheelchair compartment is located in the rear of the aircraft. On our 737-800 Series aircraft, the compartment is located in the forward section of the aircraft.  The compartment is available for Customers' use on a first-come, first-served basis."


So the only reason you should have been refused storage of your chair if it was occupied by another passenger's chair.


I don't know if Southwest monitors these discussions at all, but I will send a tweet and encourage them to check this one out.

Re: Storing wheelchair in the cabin

Rising Star

just to clarify, one FA said okay to storing the chair in the front closet and started to make space, but another FA stepped in and would not let it happen?  This does not sound like the service I am used to getting/ seeing on SWA. I can only imagine how you felt and then dealing with the  added to the stress. 


My experience with SWA has always been exceptional, and I have never seen an interaction similar to this. Did you end up asking to speak to someone once you landed? 


If you would like to further express your concerns with Southwest you can contact them via Twitter in a DM or you can call customer relations at 855-234-4654. 

The SWA community forums are passenger to passenger interactions. 


SWA Passenger, Community Champion