We flew out of Oakland, California last week on Southwest. They have plenty of wheelchairs lining up by the checking-in counters, just like the shopping carts at grocery stores. So the travel companions can push the wheelchair, and do not have to hire a airport staff to do that. I love this arrangement, since we can take our time push the wheelchair and browse the shops along the way to the gate.
We will be flying out of SFO on United in a few weeks. Does anyone know if we can just ask for the wheelchair, and push the wheelchair ourselves?
It won't be a problem - I've done it with elderly relatives many times. Go through the Special Assistance line for the initial ID check, and sometimes you'll be directed to a line for wheelchair users. If your husband can walk through the scanner, it will save an intrusive patdown, assuming he doesn't alarm.
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Ditching those surly, tip-hustling airport wheelchair pushers is an art form for us. It's harder to do on departure -- you have to get the chair to begin with -- but on arrival, when the chair is waiting at the jetway, I'm not going to stand there and wait for a pusher to show up maybe 20 minutes from now, maybe never.
Danger! Do not self-push a wheelchair on a moving walkway. If the chair won't go over the bump at the end of the walkway, you risk a pileup of human bodies behind you.
I have to laugh about the tip-hustling--it can really get out of hand! I broke my ankle abroad and had to have wheelchair assistance to get home. No problem in Madrid--my husband was allowed to push me all over the airport. In Germany, for the connecting flight, I was denied wheelchair assistance alltogether because I hadn't ordered it 24 hours in advance. (Sheesh...) But it was in my home airport, Seattle, that I first experienced the tip-hustle. My pusher began right away, "This job hardly pays anything, we depend on tips." I made sympathetic noises. She continued, "Yes, you wouldn't believe that some people don't tip at all!" Then she escalated to "Some guy only gave me three dollars this morning. I almost threw it in his face!" Finally we were at baggage claim and she held out her hand. I would have given her a 10 dollar tip, since she did wheel me through the customs and immigration line, but her constant whining reduced the tip to 5 bucks. She probably complained to her next client, though for the record, she didn't throw it in my face!
To be fair to her, my guess is that recently-injured people are the least likely to know the tipping regime...
Since then, I've needed wheelchair assistance several times for travel. I don't mind tipping, though I wish that these folks were paid a living wage. And I really don't want to be told over and over that tipping is expected.