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Wheelchair access at regional airports without an air bridge

“I use a wheelchair and can’t walk up stairs. How do I access the plane when there’s no air bridge?” This is a question I’m asked regularly. Many regional airports around Australia don’t have the facility of an air bridge from the terminal to the aircraft. Instead there is a great staircase from the tarmac to the plane’s door. However, there is a way for travellers to access the plane without using the stairs. In an effort to alleviate anxiety for anyone new to using a wheelchair, someone who hasn’t travelled before, or someone who has a mobility restriction, I thought I’d take photos and share information. So here’s what happens when you need wheelchair access at a regional airport which has no air bridge.

Wheelchair access at regional airports without an air bridge

Braeden uses his wheelchair on the tarmac, walks into the lift, stands with Hubby’s assistance in the lift and then walks to his seat on the aircraft. I understand this isn’t possible for everyone so I’ll share what usually happens.

On landing at a regional airport a passenger needing assistance is asked to wait until the rest of the passengers have disembarked. This allows the airport staff to bring the lift to the side of the aircraft and for a passenger’s wheelchair to be unloaded from the cargo hold.

The lift is then raised to the aircraft door where an aisle wheelchair is unloaded for the passenger to use in the lift. Please keep in mind not all aisle chairs have a strap to hold a person on the chair. If you need this reassurance we recommend travelling with a velcro strap of your own that you can adjust to the size needed. It’s a small extra to carry in your hand luggage for safety.

Aisle wheelchair

The lift then lowers to the tarmac.

Amelia & I wait on the tarmac and take Braeden’s own chair to him but airline crew would assist if you don’t have someone travelling with you.

The lift is quite narrow so only those who need to be in the lift are allowed in there. Hubby goes in the lift with Braeden and a flight attendant and there’s literally no extra room.

In New Zealand they offered a fancy pants air conditioned truck with a compartment that raises to the height of the plane with seats and lots of room for multiple passengers and wheelchairs. In this case we were able to stay together as a family which was much more to Braeden’s liking.

Wheelchair access at regional airports - Have Wheelchair Will Travel

One tip after our last trip, is to remember to give the airline instructions regarding the care of your wheelchair. In all the rush of getting on board, using the lift, pulling off the wheelchair cushion etc. we forgot. Amelia then looked out her window on the plane and noticed the wheelchair on its side (please note it was not Qantas or Air New Zealand who did this.). I had no qualms about pulling aside the flight crew to ask them to ask the cargo staff to right the situation. It probably delayed us a few minutes but it was worth it to ensure no damage to the chair. I’m not sure who thinks it’s even a good idea to put a wheelchair on its side but that’s a whole other blog and I’m all about the positive.


As always, we advise contacting the airline by phone and specifying your needs to the special handling department. Let them know if you will need an aisle chair transfer.

Some regional airports do have the Eagle Passenger Lifter (see photo below) for passengers who cannot do a standing transfer.

Eagle Passenger Lifter

You can read further tips about airline travel here.

We have an extensive blog on tips for making airline travel more comfortable with contributions from our readers so please take time to read that blog here. 


2 thoughts on “Wheelchair access at regional airports without an air bridge”

  1. They have such a lift at Ayers Rock Airport too, it was great!
    The free shuttle to Uluru hotelcomplex is also available with a lift if you let them know in advance.

    Only thing wrong with this is the very high price you have to pay for a hotel room there!


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