Let me try and give you the shortest answer possible to your question. This is covered under the Air Carrier Access Act and only applies to US airlines.
All post-1992 aircraft more than 100 seats must have priority space to carry at least one folding wheelchair in the cabin. This space is only availabe if you preboard the airplane. Additionally, if there happens to be more than one wheelchair-user on the airplane, one of the wheelchairs will end up in the cargo bin. So ther is never a 100% guarantee (as it is dependent on the load).
Another would be to rent a wheelhchair for your cruise and have it delivered to your stateroom. You could use the airlien wheelchair for airport transit and the crusie line wheelchair for embarkation and disembarkation.
Of course protecting your wheelchair is very importatnt when you travle by air. Here is a link to a chapter from my book that addresses that issue.
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Editor, Emerging Horizons
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the only accessible travel magazine
with utmost respect to Candy Harrington, I can make a small addition from a practical point of view.
She is certainly right in theory or present rules, but for the last five years that my wife uses WC and during our flights, at least three times a year, never did we see
our WC stored in the front closet of the aircraft. There is always the same
excuse, "there is only a limited space available" and the chair ends up down below in the cargo space. It did not matter "first class" or "coach". And we are always the first to board.
...Then at times, on the way to the rest room, I peek in and the closet IS loaded,
but with coats and packages from the first class passengers!
Another matter, I am glad that Candy suggests renting the chair from the cruise line.
But this also - as early as in time of booking. An example: I remember one cruise ship we were on, had 42 WC passengers, but the ships' own WC inventory had only six.
Vladimir is right. Sometimes it's not exactly easy.
The ACAA states that if you preboard they must store your wheelchair in the closet if it fits and if there isn't another wheelchair in there. Many airline employees are reluctant to do this, but the ACAA also states that assistive devices take priority over first class passengers coats or even crew luggage. If you do everything right and they still refuse to accommodate you, it's best to quote the law and if you don't get satisfaction, ask to speak to the CRO. I'm not saying you have to be argumenative, but you should be firm.
I also suggest that people carry a copy of the law with them (there are several pocket sized books -- available free) because sometimes when you have something in black and white, well it just carries more weight.
The airlines do this a lot, simply because it's easier to do it "their way" than it is to do it the correct way (as detailed under the ACAA). Another thing they seem to want to do is to take you wheelchair at check-in (rather than gate check it -- another right under the ACAA as long as you have gel cell batteries). Again, you have to be firm and ask to speak to the CRO if the front line employees don't help you, or don't seem to know or understand the law andyour rights.
Os course this only works on US based airlines. In theory the ACAA extends to other airliens but in practice it is impossible to enforce.
where can I obtain a copy of the ACAA, I will be traveling for the first time with my brother who must use a chair and the airlines have told me that they will store it in the cabin, now i'm not so sure.
I have flown with a folding wheelchair several times. I found that American Airlines would put it in the closet, IF I was the first one there with a folding wheelchair, but United would NEVER put it in the closet, and always told me that there wasn't room for it. Even when we were the first passengers on the plane, flying First Class, they never had room for it. I looked in the closet each time, and it did have stuff in it, the Flight Crew's bags................... I called them on it one time, and they told me that that was what that closet was for. SO................I guess it is just who you talk to. When they have checked it, and I ALWAYS insisted on it being gate checked, I have never had any damage, and was glad to have MY chair if we had to change planes, or just get to the airport. Now, I have a scooter, and last cruise, we rented a folding chair for shore excursions, from CareVacations.com, and it was in our cabin when we arrived, and we left it there when we departed. It was wonderful. If you wish to do that, you can tell the airlines you need wheelchair assistance at the airport, and pre-scooter days for me, it was always handled very well, and quickly, with an attendant to wheel me to the plane, to baggage, and even to the parking garage. I really have found all the airlines I have been on to be wonderful about wheelchair service...........just be sure to tell them ahead of time that you need it. Have a great cruise!
Also, the cruise lines that I have been on since I needed a wheelchair, did provide one, with an attendant, for boarding and disembarking. We would just ask a cruiseline staff person when we got to the port for assistance, and no problem, we had assistance. I have only used this with Princess and Royal Caribbean, so don't know about others.