Need help making your way through the airport? That's not a strange question to ask these days. Several airports require you to travel more than a mile on foot to your gate. The longest such walk appears to be at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where the farthest gate is 1.67 miles from the check-in desks.
But help is readily available, if you know how to ask for it. Federal law requires airlines that operate in the U.S. (that's right — airlines, not the airport) to provide a wheelchair or motorized cart and attendant for any passenger who requests it. No proof of disability is needed, so take advantage of this service if you don't feel up to the task of making a long walk through a crowded terminal.
“The attendants know their way around the airport, and you'll get to your gate faster and calmer with someone else navigating the way,” says Alex Renteria, spokeswoman for the Denver International Airport. An added bonus: You'll get to preboard your plane.
To ensure swift service, it's best to call the airline at least 48 hours before your trip and request transport service to the gate. If you forget, you can request service when you check in for your flight, but don't be surprised if an attendant is not available right away. As airports have grown and the population has aged, demand for wheelchairs and carts has increased, and that can overwhelm the system. At Atlanta International Airport, the nation's busiest, passenger requests for wheelchair service have doubled in the past year, notes Steve Mayers, the airport's director of customer experience.
A few more pointers:
1. Check your bags, or ship your luggage separately. A single, light carry-on makes for an easier wheelchair trip.
2. Consider your connections. If you use the transport service, you will be the last off the plane, so don’t book a flight with a connection that’s less than an hour away.
3. Bring your own food. Your attendant is not required to take you to a restaurant or food stand.
4. Don’t forget to tip. Thank a wheelchair attendant with $3 to $5, or more if he or she helps with luggage or spends extra time with you. For an electric cart, tip $2 to $3.