The Travelling Guardian | Mobility Aid Travellers
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Mobility Aid Travellers

woman in wheelchair

Mobility Aid Travellers

Airlines transport all types of personal wheelchairs, hand-propelled chairs; folding, collapsible and non-folding electric wheelchairs, including scooters, with wet acid batteries and dry cell batteries.

Travelling can be challenging for passengers with special needs. It may seem like a daunting task to prepare and I would like to help you with a blog written specifically for the wheelchair and scooter travellers. You will be able to plan your trips well informed and take charge of your travel experience!

I will break down the various steps in two blogs for you. In this blog, we will cover general information and helpful tips on planning and booking your flights with the airlines or your travel agent. The second blog will break down your travel day at the airport. Knowing what to expect will empower you to be more in control of what lies ahead on your journey.

Know before you go helpful suggestions and tips

– Review your mobility device manual so that you are familiar with how your mobility device should be prepared for transport.

– If you are bringing a powered mobility device, most carriers require a mobility aid information sheet to be filled. (See links below).

– If possible print the form in advance, (two copies for each direction and one for yourself) if you cannot print this form you will need to fill this form out at the airport at check-in. At check-in give the form filled out to the check-in agent.

– Note your mobility devices measurements (e.g. length, width, weight) and specifications (e.g. type of battery) of your mobility device. Are your batteries lithium-ion, spillable (wet cell) or nonspillable ( Dry cell)? With manual wheelchairs, you will not have to give as many details. If your mobility device has a battery, some airlines advise if a battery cannot be deactivated or disconnected it will be denied transportation.

– If you plan to transport your wheelchair/scooter in the cargo compartment of the aircraft, it must fit through the cargo door.  This is particularly important when travelling on smaller (especially propeller-driven) aircraft.

– You will need to provide instructions on how to prepare, remove, stow and handle your mobility aid for transport.

– Bring a bag for your removable pieces (sideguards, footrests, basket, seat cushion etc.) Before the flight, practice taking off the removable pieces at home so there are no surprises at the airport. Prepare name tags with name, phone contacts, email and forwarding address and attach the name tags to all the removable pieces of mobility aid and the chair. Consider taking a few spare parts and wrenches with you if you have had problems with your device.

– For protection against skin breakdowns consider bringing your seat cushion from your mobility device on board to sit on while in flight.

– With some airlines and airports, a friend or family member may assist you through security and to your departure gate.

– Your assistant must complete a gate pass authorization form at the check-in counter and show valid government-issued ID. If the gate pass option is unavailable, airline staff or airline supporting staff will escort you through security and to your departure.

– Be prepared in case of damage to your mobility device. Google a list of companies that can fix your mobility aid at your destination should anything happen during your trip. You can file a claim with the carrier upon arrival, however, this may take time. If the mobility aid is lost or damaged in transit, the carrier should look after and pay for repairs or replacement. Each carrier will have a different policy.

– Be careful not to overpack your carry-on as the weight can be a burden especially if you are carrying the extra pieces of your mobility aid on board.

– A suitcase with wheels may be easier to handle and a backpack as your carry-on can be placed behind the wheelchair.

– Travellers with disabilities that are travelling outside of Canada, please note that many other countries do not have accessibility standards comparable to our country. Research the services available for travellers with disabilities for your destination by contacting the government office in Canada. Check out the website of your arriving airport to find out about services offered for travellers with a disability.

– Airlines recommend that you check in 24hours before your flight either on your phone (mobile) or your computer (web). *Passengers requiring wheelchairs or bringing their own and requesting special assistance will need to check-in with an airport agent. Plan to be early!

– You will need to present identification at the airport at the check-in counter and at the departure gate.

– For information on your flight download the airline’s app in advance to your flight or register on the airline’s site for up to date information about your scheduled flight. Updates will be sent to you via text or email, depending on what you requested.


Elderly man in wheel chair

TRAVELLING COMPANIONS (ATTENDANT)

– There are certain cases in which disabled or reduced mobility travellers (not self-reliant) will be required to travel with a companion/attendant in order to fly. The need for an attendant is usually due to the non-self reliant passenger being unable to evacuate the aircraft on his/her own in case of an emergency. Contact the airline(s) directly for complete details.

– The attendant must be able-bodied to assist you in an emergency. He/she must be fully capable of attending to his/her own needs as well as your physical needs during the flight.

– A physicians letter is needed to state that you cannot travel unless you have an attendant with you.

– All information will need to go through each airline’s medical desk. The airline will contact your physician directly.

– The attendant may qualify for a reduced rate in airfare depending on destination.


Hand with stethoscopeMEDICAL NEEDS

Passengers with medical needs are allowed to bring prescription and essential non-prescription medications with them through the security checkpoint as well as any medically required items and mobility aids.

When travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medication:

– Pack all medications in your carry-on baggage in their original, labelled containers.

– Prescription medication is exempted from the liquid restrictions but must be presented to the screening officer separately from your carry-on baggage.

– Do not combine medications into a single container.

– Pack an extra supply of medication in case you are away for longer than expected.

– If you use needles or syringes to take medication, you must have appropriate medical records with you to explain your medical condition and the need for the medical procedure to security or foreign authorities. Please alert the cabin crew if you have used any needles during flight.

**Prescription medications for health conditions may come under scrutiny by foreign officials. It is always best to contact the foreign government offices accredited to Canada of the country you plan to visit to confirm that you can bring in your medication. Do not assume!


Should you CHECK-IN your mobility device or take it to the DEPARTURE GATE?

– Thinking about this question in advance will help you at the airport when your checking in. All mobility devices – scooters, power wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs can be checked in at the check-in counter or brought to the departure gate free of charge.
– The difference between the two options are 1/If you check-in your mobility device you will not see it until you arrive at your final destination. 2/If you gate check your mobility device you bring it with you to the gate and your mobility device will be delivered to the door of the aircraft at connections* and at your arrival city.
*Connection times will need to be carefully looked at. If you have less than ninety minutes to get to the next gate the airlines may not be able to bring your mobility device to the door of the aircraft and will recommend the use of the airline wheelchair.

PLANNING AND BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT

Contact the airlines or your travel agent well in advance to your travel date. Not only is this wise for booking desirable flights and obtaining decent airfares, planning early will help assure your needs will be met and for proper handling of your mobility device.
– I recommend that you call the airlines directly or your travel agent. – Booking online does not allow you to give all details of your specific needs and details of your mobility aid.
– Before you get too involved in booking your flights advise the call centre agent the nature of your special needs.

For wheelchair assistance, ask yourself these three questions.

1. Do I need a wheelchair for distance?

2. Can I walk up or down steps and walk unassisted to and from the door of the aircraft door to my seat and my seat to the lavatory?

3. Do I require transfer assistance in and out of my wheelchair and into the cabin and to and from my seat to the lavatory?

Knowing the answers to these questions will assist the booking agent to add the most appropriate wheelchair assistance request to your reservation.

– *If you know you will be travelling with an attendant advise the airline call centre agent at the very beginning of the call. You will likely be transferred to the airlines specialized medical service desk to assist you further.

– If you are bringing your own mobility device, advise the booking agent what type of device you are bringing. Will it be a manual wheelchair, powered wheelchair or scooter?

– Confirm that your wheelchair or scooter will fit into the cargo hold of all flights booked. Certain types of aircraft may not be able to accommodate your powered wheelchair or scooter due to the size of the cargo door.

– If you will be bringing your powered wheelchair or scooter you will be asked to describe the battery type.

– Is it a dry cell – non-spillable or wet cell -spillable or lithium -ion battery.


It’s time to make your booking

Now that the call centre agent understands your special needs, it’s time to discuss where you want to go, the best way to get there and your preferred travel dates.

– Discuss the type of airfare and flexibility options you are looking for with your booking agent. In general, the lower the fare, the more the restrictions. Any deeply discounted fares will have a strict date change policy and are usually non-refundable (with a possible credit for a future travel date with cancellation fees applied).

– Consult your insurance company or travel agent about insurance. The two types of applicable travel-related insurance are trip cancellation insurance (to cover the non-refundable portion of the ticket) and travel health insurance. Pre-existing medical conditions will need to be taken into account for travel health insurance. There is usually a limited time period that you must purchase the insurance so don’t put this important step off. (Copy your insurance policy and keep one copy with you with phone numbers)

– Request the most direct route to your destination, avoiding connections if possible.

– If a connection is required for your journey, booking agents are inclined to book flights that minimize the time required on the ground. Ask the length of connecting time for each connection. If you feel like the connection time is too short, ask the booking agent to find an alternate connection that allows you more
time. This is important to note if you are having your own wheelchair delivered to you at the door of the aircraft between connections. I recommend a minimum of 90 minutes between flights in order for your transfer not to be rushed.

– Aircraft that have less than 60 seats usually do not have an aisle wheelchair to assist you to the lavatory. If not being able to use an aisle wheelchair is a concern, ask the booking agent to find a new routing or if possible to be booked on a larger aircraft.

– Discuss seating that meets your needs, request seats with liftable or removable armrests, aisle seats preferably and ask to be near a washroom. (except in emergency exit rows) Depending on the type of ticket you purchase there could be a charge for advance seat selection.

– Once your booking has been made ask for each airlines booking reference (if you are flying with different carriers) and your 13 digit ticket number. You will not have access to your own booking unless you have this information because of the airlines privacy act. Knowing your booking reference also helps you to register on the airlines website for flight notifications.

– If you are booking with a travel agent please note their confirmation number is not the same as the airlines.

– Review any special services that you have requested and reconfirm your wheelchair or scooter will fit through the cargo doors of all flights.

*A special note: If your itinerary involves other carriers, verify with the airline that has your initial booking whether or not you will need to contact each individual carrier directly to advise of your special needs. Some airlines will not arrange the transfer of your mobility aid or are unable to pass on your pertinent information.

If your booking airline looks after all the details of passing on your information, I still recommend you call each carrier directly to verify they received this information at least 72 hours prior to flight time.

*If you have booked months in advance, I recommend you reconfirm your itinerary every two months before departure and then 48 hours prior to departure. Airlines change schedules seasonally. Schedule changes can change the aircraft type used, flight numbers, departure and arrival times and seat assignment. Should a schedule change occur to your booking, verify and confirm with the airline call centre agent that your special needs will still be met on each of the new flights.

 

Knowing what to expect will empower you to be more in control of what lies ahead on your journey. All the best for a stress-free flight and a wonderful vacation!

WEBSITE LINKS

Air Canada Powered Mobility Aid Information Form
Delta Wheelchair Handling Form
United Airlines  Customer Wheel chair form
Generic airline Reservation Checklist for Travel with a Mobility Aid
                                                                             ………………….
Air Canada- Attendant/Companion Travel Request Form
                                                                           ………………
Air Canada- Customers with Special Needs
United Airlines- Customers with Special Needs Air Canada- Customers with Special Needs
WestJet – Customers with Special Needs
                                                                                …………..
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