Traveling can be stressful for anyone – even if you don’t have any disabilities or need any extra assistance.
When you’re in a wheelchair you need extra help in the airport getting to the right gate and making sure your luggage comes with you. Oftentimes you will be relying on assistance from airport agents to help you get to where you need to be.
As this service usually goes above and beyond, and requires some extra help, many people feel the need to tip the airport agents that helped them.
However, it’s often unclear as to how much exactly you should tip the agent who assisted you. So, how much should you tip?
Well, the short answer is: it depends.
As with tipping in many other industries, tipping is up to your person discretion and should be based on how good you feel the service was that you received.
What You Need to Know About the Agents That Assist You
Many airports will hire employees who are specifically there to help passengers who have mobility issues or need assistance getting to the right gate or to the entrance to get a ride.
What is lesser known is that oftentimes these airports will classify this position as a wage-tip position. What this means is that employees in this position will make a decent amount of money in tips.
Knowing this information, the airports can often justify that they pay these employees a lower wage due to knowing they will make up the difference in tips from passengers.
This isn’t to make you feel like you have to tip them, however it is something to take into consideration when thinking about whether you’re going to tip the wheelchair assistant.
For those passengers who are in a wheelchair or have mobility issues, getting from the entrance of the airport to their gate, or vice versa, would be very difficult without assistance.
They may also provide you with additional assistance – like stopping at a washroom or a store to get a drink.
When it comes to tipping, it’s up to your discretion as to how much you think is warranted by the service you received.
At some airports those that help with wheelchair assistance will actually work for a company that is contracted by the airport, and they are not full-time airport employees.
So Why Don’t People Usually Tip Wheelchair Agents?
When traveling via airplane, there are very few situations where you would tip anyone as you’ve already paid for your ticket and there aren’t a lot of extras.
Most people assume that the wheelchair agents is just a service that’s provided by the airline. Since airplane tickets are pretty expensive (most of the time) many people assume that this service is just included in the price you already pay.
This makes people who are traveling less likely to give a tip out of their pocket if they believe the wheelchair agents are making the same wages, and none of their income is dependent on tips.
Do You Need to Pay Extra for Wheelchair Assistance at the Airport?
Using wheelchair assistance at the airport is free, and airports are legally required to provide these services to those who need them.
Whether you are in a wheelchair permanently or have temporary mobility issues (like recovering from a surgery), you can use this service when traveling without paying any extra to the airport.
How Do You Go About Using Wheelchair Assistance at the Airport?
While you can get assistance with a wheelchair when you show up to the airport without a reservation, it’s not recommended to leave it to chance.
Since you have a timeline, and your plane leaves at a certain time, it’s highly recommended that you book an agent for assistance in advance.
You can do this by simply calling the airline ahead of time and letting them know the date and time you’re going to be travelling so they can make sure you will have help when you’re there.
The airline will likely ask exactly what kind of assistance you need, and if you will need a wheelchair from them or if you have your own.
They will also ask which flight you are on so the agent helping you knows exactly where to take you when you get there and make sure you get to the right gate and on your flight on time.
If you don’t book the assistance ahead of time there is a risk that you may not be able to get the help you need and therefore could miss your flight altogether.
If you haven’t booked it ahead of time – no worries. There is often a phone or information desk when you arrive that can help you get the assistance you need.
The information desk will usually be staffed so they can call someone to come help or show you where you need to go.
It’s very clearly marked as to how to get help if you need it when you arrive at the airport.
Additionally, if you don’t think you need assistance when you first arrive but find it’s a longer walk then you thought there will often be stops at various places around the terminal where you can get the assistance you need.
How Much Should You Tip a Wheelchair Assistance Agent?
When it comes to tipping a wheelchair assistant, many travellers will tip somewhere between $3 and $5 when it’s a simple, short distance they had to go.
If you are going through customs or require further assistance (like to stop at a washroom) then tips are typically a little higher around $10.
Of course, this isn’t a definite rule. The amount you tip is completely up to you and should depend on the amount of help you received and how friendly the service was.
Further, if the assistant helps you load your luggage into a vehicle (like a cab or if someone you know is picking you up) then you may wish to tip a little more since this is some extra help you would normally have to do on your own.
Tips for Traveling When You’re in a Wheelchair or Have Limited Mobility
Just because you’re in a wheelchair or have mobility issues it doesn’t mean you don’t want to travel and see the world. Traveling may look a little different for you, but you can enjoy adventures, nonetheless.
If you’re thinking about traveling in the near future but know you’ll need some assistance at the airport here are a few tips to make it a little less stressful for you.
Before you book
Some airlines have specifications around the kind of mobility equipment they will allow on plans – usually due to weight limitations. If you use a wheelchair or an electric scooter, you may want to check with the airline if there are weight limits so you aren’t stuck in a position of leaving your chair behind.
Oftentimes, wheelchair users will disembark the plane last – after everyone else is off the plane. This can take 20 – 30 minutes in some cases.
With this in mind it’s important to make sure you give ample time for connecting flights – especially if you need a wheelchair assistance agent to help you with your luggage or getting to the next gate.
Before you fly
Once you’ve booked your flights, contact the airline at least 48 hours before your flight(s) to let them know you’ll need some assistance with travelling.
If you’re flying internationally, you may have connecting flights with different airlines. It’s important you contact the airlines independently and not rely on the first to notify the second.
Taking care of your wheelchair
This is more important if you use an electric wheelchair, as it often is required to be put under the plane with the luggage.
In order to avoid serious damage to your wheelchair or mobility assistance equipment, you can attach instructions to it so that those who work for the airline know how to operate it.
Many times the damage experienced is because airline employees don’t know the specifics of how to operate the equipment so damage is done unintentionally when they are loading or unloading the plane.
As you will likely need help with your luggage, if you can pack light, it is advisable to do so.
Opting for luggage that has wheels on it means you can hold on the handle and wheel it along with your wheelchair as you go.
This is less help that you would need from the airport wheelchair assistance agents and you can keep track of your luggage at all times.
Boarding the airplane
If you need a little extra time to transfer from your wheelchair to your seat, you may be able to pre-board.
When you get to the gate of your flight, let the attendant at the desk know that you’re in need of help and wish to pre-board. If you have a mobility aid that can’t go on the flight with you, the attendants will help you transfer and then take it to be put under the plane.
This is a safety measure that ensures those who need help can get to their seat safely and are not caught up with general boarding.
Travelling in a wheelchair can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t do it often.
However, there is assistance available to all passengers at the airport as they need it and to make sure they get to their flight safely.
When you receive additional help, tipping is always welcomed as many times a good portion of the wages of these employees is reliant on tips and they always appreciate you acknowledging that their service was great.