Air Travel

Proper Documentation

Every major airline has a medical form that can be filled out (must have physician signature) and can be filed for future reference. It is useful because they can accommodate you better when booking your flight (see below). This form is a pain to get filled out since it has to be done by a doctor, so take a few different ones from all the major airlines and get them signed at once. This takes the hassle out of having to only pick one airline when choosing flights and having to keep paying to see your doctor to fill out a simple form (not covered by OHIP).

Booking Flights

After booking your flight, it is a good idea to call the medical desk of the airline to tell them what wheelchairs you will be taking. I have been told that some flights only accept 3 to 4 electric wheelchairs, so by calling ahead of time you will ensure yours gets on the plane. This is especially important of you are bringing 2 electric chairs. They will ask you for all measurements of the chairs, including weight.

        It is also a good idea to call the medical desk so that you can get preferred seating. I like to have the bulkhead since there is a bit of extra room. However, if there is a first class in front of you, often times the arm rest does not go up. It is then harder to get into the seat. So ask if the arm rest goes up! Besides, if there is a first class, there isn’t really any extra space for you. It is really only worth it if it is a coach charter.

Attendant Prices

Attendant prices depend on where you going are to. For example, by Canadian law all attendant tickets must be free (excluding taxes). However, if you are flying to the States (With Air Canada), it is 50% off, BUT the half price is often of the highest possible choice (i.e. first class). Most of the time the 50% off is much more than a ticket you find online. For example, my attendant price could have been $1000 roundtrip, but I could get a regular ticket for $750. It makes no sense at all.    

    If you are going to purchase an attendant ticket to get a reduced price, you have to have a medical form filed with the airline (see above).

Extra baggage

Most airlines will accept a second bag (free of charge) if it is for medical equipment. In advance, I would ask the airline and have written documentation of this. I have also had my bag weigh too much, but they still let me take it. I said it was medical equipment, and that two separate bags would be too hard to handle. They waved the overweight fee.

Any help in the Airport

If you need help navigating the airport, carrying luggage or any additional assistance, the airport will provide services.

Taking your chair on the plane

This is a pretty simple procedure, but can be stressful if not handled properly. You can request to bring your chair right to the gate, allowing you to remain in your chair until right before you enter the plane. This is often times better, reducing the potential for it getting lost.

   For the most part, your chair must be disassembled in order for it to fit in the underbelly of the plane. I always take the back rest off so that the head rest does not get moved around. I also make sure to take the little knobby off of the joystick. It has been almost lost before, something that can be hard to replace!

    Unfortunately, something that has recently been put into regulation is that an electric chair must be disconnected from the battery. Well, I have been to my wheelchair’s vendor and it is not even possible. It is specifically not done so that there is no possible disconnection, leading to a breakdown of chair. Therefore, to avoid an argument with officials, I tape a sign to my wheelchair indicating in BOLD letters that it is not possible to do so. They can keep it in manual, thus having no current to the battery. Before the sign I have had electric wheelchairs with random wires pulled out, batteries taped with lots of heavy duty tape and a chair that we could not get to work for about 15 minutes. So I suggest that the sign is a must!

Getting on the plane

An aisle wheelchair (usually a head rest is there) can be used to get to your seat. This wheelchair is very narrow to allow it to fit through the isles. There is a foot rest and straps to keep you in the chair. Once on the plane and inflight, there is an onboard chair. It does not have a head rest and usually only one seatbelt. There are always flight attendants there to assist you.

Bathrooms on planes

Try and only go once on a plane if possible! This is a trek in itself. You can for the most part get your seat close to a bathroom, but it could be best to go down to the front of the cabin for privacy. The doors to the washrooms are tiny and some skillful maneuvering needs to be done to have two people transfer and fit in the teeny tiny bathroom. Some doors of the washroom can be unhinged to open wider (or if it is an accordion door). It also might even be better that it is small because this offers security in leaning against a wall, or holding on the counter for support.

Getting off the plane

This part of the journey is always longer for those in chairs. We must wait for our chair from the underbelly and wait for the other passengers to exit the plane. Many times there is not an elevator to bring the chair to the door, so it must be taken around to another gate. I always estimate about an extra 40 to 60 minutes wait for this part.