The Airbus A380 Has A Hidden Motorized Stair Wheelchair

When it comes to producing modern-day commercial aircraft, accessibility plays a very important role. After all, physical disabilities shouldn’t be an obstacle for people wanting to experience the joy of flight. However, on double-decker aircraft, wheelchair users have an extra obstacle to overcome if sitting upstairs. Luckily, the Airbus A380 has a solution.

The A380’s internal stairlift is a contingency measure for elevator failures. Photo: Getty Images

The A380’s discreet internal stairlift

The Airbus A380 is unique in the sense that it has two full-length passenger decks situated on top of each other. In contrast, its double-decker Boeing alternative, the 747, only has a partial upper deck. As such, fewer passengers experience the novelty of going upstairs.

As seen in the photograph below, airports tend to board the superjumbo using jet bridges that serve both its lower and upper decks. However, when this isn’t possible, upper deck passengers may have to reach their seats by climbing the aircraft’s internal stairs. Equally, they may wish to do this inflight, to have a chance to stretch their legs on a long journey.

The upper deck isn’t off-limits to wheelchair users either. Much like how people with reduced mobility may fit their homes with a stairlift, the A380 has a similar motorized solution to provide help to those who need it. You may not have seen this on your travels. After all, when not in use, it tucks discreetly back into the cabin wall, remaining hidden until required.

Airbus A380 Getty
Passengers typically board the A380 via both lower and upper jetbridges. Photo: Getty Images

A useful fallback measure

As established, the upper deck of the A380 is typically accessible via a separate jetbridge. This provides step-free access to these seats. With this in mind, British Airways confirmed on Twitter that this means there are no restrictions for wheelchair users on the A380.

However, in the event that boarding this way is unavailable, the stairlift comes into its own. Former A380 operator Air France told Reduced Mobility Rights in March 2013 that:

At all Paris Charles de Gaulle terminals handling the A380, the jetways are equipped with an elevator to help Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM) access the jetway to the upper deck. In the event of an elevator malfunction, jetway staff can use ‘SMax,’ a motorized chair that can carry PRM up the A380’s internal stairs.”

Wheelchair aircraft flying travel
Even today, flying in a wheelchair sadly isn’t always a flawless experience. Photo: Getty Images

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Flying with a wheelchair can be difficult

Many efforts are made to make air travel accessible for wheelchair users. However, the industry sometimes falls short of the mark. This year saw the topic highlighted on multiple occasions by public figures in relation to the hosting of the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Irish Patrick Flanagan was just one athlete whose specialist chair was damaged in transit. This is an example of a wider problem in commercial aviation, which sees an average of 29 chairs damaged at airports a day. Going forward, this may be less of an issue, thanks to a new concept that allows wheelchair users to use their chair as their seat on the plane.

Did you know about the A380’s motorized stair wheelchair? How do you think manufacturers can help make aircraft more accessible? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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