New Airplane Design Allows Passengers to Fly in Their Own Wheelchairs

Air travel is becoming more accessible.

Jun 21, 2023


Travel, Inclusive
New Airplane Design Allows Passengers to Fly in Their Own Wheelchairs | Air travel is becoming more accessible.

Airports are becoming more accessible for people with mobility issues with wheelchair service, reserved seating, and even food concessions with lower counters. Now, one airline is going the extra mile to make airplanes more accessible too.

Delta recently unveiled a new seat prototype at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg Germany, reported NBC News, that will allow passengers that are wheelchair users  to stay in their own chairs during the flight. The design, demonstrated by Delta Flight Products (DFP), will allow for inflight comfort as well as easier boarding and disembarking for the passengers who usually have to be staff assisted since wheelchairs cannot currently be used on board..

“This patented design offers new possibilities for customers with disabilities to enjoy a travel experience they truly deserve,” DFP president Rick Salanitri said in a press release from the airline.

New accessible seat design
The new design consists of a seat that can convert between wheelchair mode and a conventional airplane seat, reported CNN. The built-in seat folds up so that a wheelchair – only electric ones at this time – can be safely secured in place. The seats would be installed into the current aircraft seat track systems so no structural changes would have to be made to airplanes.

The seat maintains the aesthetics of a conventional airplane seat. Salanitri told CNN that the goal is to make the seat conversions seamless. The amenities are the same too. The flyers seated in the chair’s wheelchair mode are able to use the tray table that is designed to rise up to the desired height when the seat is converted.

The seat design was produced by a partnership between DFP and the UK-based Air4All consortium which includes the advocacy group Flying Disabled. The consortium was founded a few years ago by Christopher Wood who has two adult children who are wheelchair users.

Having wheelchairs onboard will also solve the issue of wheelchairs getting lost or broken by airlines. According to the 2023 Air Travel Consumer Report, more than 11,000 wheelchairs and scooters, 1.5 percent of the total, were mishandled by US airlines.

The next steps
The partnership is now working to make the prototype a reality, according to CNN. “We’re going through the testing and development and certification for the chair that is going to make that chair viable to go on an aircraft – we’re projecting within 18 months,” product innovation manager Tyler Anderson-Lennert told CNN.

DFP has already started discussions with the US Federal Aviation Administration and the UK Civil Aviation Authority with the goal of getting this seat on every airplane; not just the Delta ones.

“Here’s the perfect world,” said Salanitri. “I pick up the front row of all domestic airplane seats and I drop these in, no other changes, I’d have to integrate a little bit of IFE [in-flight entertainment] into it, there’ll be some regulatory certification that goes into it, but it’s a very low time, low-cost modification in the perfect world.”

While airplanes are still not going to be completely accessible – the restrooms are two small to use a wheelchair in – solutions may be just around the corner. The new accessible airplane seat could be just the beginning of the age of inclusive travel.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.