The Travelling Guardian | What to expect on your travel day
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What to expect on your travel day


What to expect on your travel day

Your travel day has come! For most of us, this day is exciting yet nerve-racking. You may be concerned about what to expect at the airport when you are travelling with your mobility aid or if your airline wheelchair request has been looked after.

This blog is specially written for those that travel with mobility devices. I would like to familiarize you with the steps you will go through from departure to arrival on your travel day. Knowing what you will encounter at the airport and on board, the aircraft will help you to feel more in control and at ease with the day ahead of you.

Have a wonderful journey!

Housekeeping/Don’t forget reminders:

– Government-issued identification or passport, and any visas you may need. (check the validity)

– Provincial health card as well as any private health insurance cards and additional documents needed.

– Written confirmation of all arrangements and services you will receive. (Note your airline confirmation number)

– Mobility aid handbook-tools

– Medication to be out in your carry-on luggage. Remember to make sure that all prescribed medications carry a pharmaceutical label or a pharmacist’s label with a name that matches the name on your ticket and boarding pass.

– Before you leave for the terminal, check the airline’s app and verify that your departure is not delayed.


– On your travel date please arrive extra early so that you have time to ask questions, show your travel documentation, check in your luggage and mobility aid, go through security screening and get to your gate. This process should not be rushed. I strongly recommend that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to departure for a domestic flight and 3 hours early for an international flight. (earlier if it is holiday time or a long weekend)

– If you have checked in online within 24hours prior to your flight or you use a kiosk at the airport to check in, you will still need to see a check-in agent to reconfirm the assistance you require for your special needs.

– Your airport may have a designated special needs check-in area. If not check with an airline representative before you line up in a long check-in line.

– Identify yourself as a person with disability-related service needs.

– Present valid government-issued identification at the check-in counter and again at the boarding gate. Expired identification will be refused. (If you do not have picture government identification, verify with the airline what you can use)

– Boarding cards and baggage tags will be issued to your final destination. Your boarding card will have a code or a wheelchair picture on it, indicating a special needs request. (This alerts the gate agent and the flight crew of your request for assistance)

– Wheelchairs and the removable pieces do not count as part of your baggage allotment and there is no fee charged.

– Bring any special tools that may be required for assembly and disassembly of the mobility aid and your mobility aid handbook.

– Provide instructions: The airlines will give you a mobility aid form to fill out if you are checking in a powered mobility aid. (You can go on the carrier’s website and print out a copy and fill it out in advance with specifics of your wheelchair.)

– You may want to take on the smaller removable pieces as carry-on. (headrest, handles, footrests, seat cushion etc) and check-in the larger pieces eg basket.

– Take a picture of your wheelchair before the baggage handlers take it. This helps show the shape your chair was in prior to flight if anything is damaged on arrival.

– As your wheelchair cannot be used onboard the aircraft you will have a choice to decide on, either to check in your mobility aid and transfer to an airport wheelchair OR take your mobility aid to the gate.

– If you would prefer to use your personal wheelchair within the airport, the check-in agent will issue a gate tag for your mobility aid and the gate agent at the departure gate will have the ramp agents stow your personal wheelchair once you are boarded.

– If you have arrived at the airport without a mobility aid or you are using your walker and are unable to walk up or down stairs or are unable to walk long distances within the airport, the check-in counter agent will provide you with wheelchair assistance. (Your walker can be checked in at the counter)

– Once the check-in process is completed, the agent will have an airline employee assist you through security/customs and take you to the departure gate.

– If you brought someone to assist you to the gate and they are not travelling they will need a gate pass to get through security. They will need to present government identification to the check-in agent who will write up a gate pass. ( Gate passes are not obtainable with all airlines)

Airport SecurityAirport security screening in Canada

In Canadian airports, it is the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) officers who screen passengers entering the secure zones and boarding areas.

Give yourself plenty of time to get through security screening, especially during holiday travel periods. Don’t put your boarding pass away as you will need to show it and have the boarding pass scanned before you can proceed through security.

– 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.

– Pack all medication in your carry-on baggage with clearly identified labels bearing your name.

– Bringing a day-by-day pill separator is not an issue for security according to CATSA, however, there may be concerns about travelling with medication when travelling outside of Canada. To confirm if there will be any issues check their website.

– Use the Family/Special Needs security line. Screening officers at these lines are trained to offer additional assistance.

– Let the screening officer know about any mobility or medical concerns.

– You will be required to place your coat or sweater/purse/scarf/carry on and anything else you are carrying into the bins so that they can be scanned. Your belt and shoes may need to be scanned as well.

– Place your prescription medication and your bag of liquids in the bin separately from your carry-on baggage.

– Always bring documentation that supports your medical condition.

– Tell the screening officer if you are not able to walk through the metal detector unassisted. They will then offer you screening options.

– Information on the Catsa website advises that screening officers will visually inspect your wheelchair or scooter and could perform explosive trace detection samples of the cushion. These inspections can be conducted while you remain seated if you are unable to get out of your wheelchair or scooter. If a physical search or explosive trace detection swab is needed, you can ask to be screened in a private search room.

– If you have a disability, condition or implant (like a pacemaker, insulin pump)  ask the security officer if a private search room could be used if a physical search is required.

People sitting on aircraftDeparture Gate – It’s time to board!

What happens at the departure gate? How do I get on the aircraft with my mobility aid?

Airlines offer travellers with disabilities time to board before the other passengers. This ensures you have the time you need to stow mobility aid pieces, your carry on and have time to settle into your seat before the remaining passengers board.

– It is very important you arrive early to the departure gate and identify yourself so that the agent will be able to discuss with you the best way to assist with your pre-boarding. Preparation for powered mobility aids to be properly stowed take time. Arrive at least 30-45 minutes before the boarding time shown on your boarding card.

– When the pre-boarding announcement is made the gate agent will ask to see your valid government-issued identification and your boarding card.

– Once your boarding card has been scanned the ground staff will wheel you down the bridge or to the tarmac if there is no bridge and you will be assisted  to the door of the aircraft. Once at the door, you will be helped out of your chair and the flight attendants will show you to your seat.

– For the non-ambulatory travellers once you are at the aircraft door the aisle chair is placed next to your wheelchair to allow for an easy side to side transfer. The aisle chair is an especially designed chair used to transfer you from your wheelchair and is rolled down the narrow aircraft aisle to get you to your seat with ease. This chair has a seatbelt like extensions to safely buckle you in.

– The airline’s ramp crew will help you with your transfer. They are trained and know the correct transfer techniques to assist you. Let them know the best way to accommodate you. The airline employees want to help make your boarding as comfortable as possible.

– *Please note that some carriers may require the attendant travelling to be the one that lifts the person from the wheelchair into the aisle back chair and again into the seat.

– Some domestic and international airports may not have jet-bridges available. You may board outside on the tarmac. In certain airports, a passenger assist lift, mechanical lift, ramp or a stair chair physically carried by airline personnel, may be used for boarding and deplaning.

– Collapsible, folding or breakdown manual wheelchairs will be stowed safely in the aircraft cargo hold.

– American carriers may have a designated wheelchair stowage closet on board for the collapsible manual wheelchair for those that have their chair gate checked. Due to the size of the aircraft the availability is on a first come first serve basis.

Aircraft window viewThe boarding is completed and you’re ready to leave. How can you access the aircraft lavatory?

Most aircraft have facilities which are accessible to customers with disabilities. The aircraft includes an onboard wheelchair specially designed to fit the aisle of the aircraft and for use to and from the lavatory.

– The flight attendants will transport non-self reliant passengers to and from the onboard lavatory with the aisle chair similar to what you used to get to your seat. There may or may not be a footrest on this aisle chair.

– Aircraft that have less than 60 seats usually do not have an aisle wheelchair to assist you to the lavatory.

– Planes with 60 or more seats will have an accessible restroom with grab bars and lever faucet and call button.

– The airline’s door frame does not allow for the aisle chair to enter the washroom. You must be able to stand and pivot into the lavatory or have your companion assist you.

– Airline personnel are not able to assist you in the lavatory.

Terminal departure screensWhat happens when I make a connection to another aircraft?

– If you checked in your mobility device at the check-in counter to your final destination you will be met by an airline representative and be assisted with the airline’s wheelchair from the aircraft door to your next connection.

– If you used an aisle back chair to board, you will go through a similar process to deplane and be assisted with the airline’s wheelchair to your connecting aircraft.

– Any passengers requiring assistance will be assisted once all the remaining passengers have left the aircraft.

– If you gate checked your wheelchair and your connecting city was noted on the gate check tag, your own wheelchair/scooter will be brought to the door of the aircraft. You will be assisted to your connecting aircraft in your own chair**

– ** The time between connecting flights may be insufficient to retrieve and or assemble your mobility device. Airlines may require that you have at least 90 minutes between flights. If time is a factor you will be recommended to use the airline’s transfer and connection service to get to your next gate.

Airport arrivalArrival time!  Your plane has landed!

To better assist you and for the safety of everyone, you will be asked to remain seated until other passengers have left the aircraft. At that point, the ground staff will come to the aircraft and help you.

– If you boarded with the help of an aisle back chair, when you arrive you will be assisted off the aircraft in a similar manner.

– The mobility aids that were gate checked will be brought to the door of the aircraft. Once you are seated in your wheelchair you will be brought to baggage services.

– If you checked-in your mobility aid to your final destination, your wheelchair will be delivered to the Baggage Claim area.

– The special assistance code on your boarding card alerts the ground staff at your arrival point that you have requested assistance.

– All passengers with a wheelchair/scooter will be assisted by an airline representative to baggage services.

Airport SecurityBefore you leave the airport

Your mobility aid should be returned to you at your destination in the same condition as when you checked it in.

– Inspect the mobility aid at your destination.

– If it has been damaged, complete a claim form for damages with the carrier, before leaving the terminal.

– You will need your ticket number, flight number and all baggage claim stubs. (Keeping your boarding card will help with flight details)

– It is best to report damage to your mobility aid before leaving the terminal otherwise, it may be difficult to establish that the damage was done by the airline.

– Did you remember to take a picture of your mobility device at the departing airport? This will confirm the condition your mobility device was in before you left.

– *If your mobility aid is lost or damaged, the airline should be expected to provide you with a suitable temporary replacement until either it finds your aid, repairs or replaces it. The airline is also expected to pay for any replacements or repairs.

– There are government requirements in Canada and the United States for passengers that have special needs. The Air Carrier Access Act must be adhered to. The act defines the rights of passengers and the obligations of airlines. If you are travelling to other countries they may not have government regulations and each carrier will have their own policy.

travel documentsGovernment Links:

Canadian Air Transport Security Authority

Canadian Transportation Agency

Take Charge of Your Travel: A Guide for Persons with Disabilities

US Department of Transportation

USA Transportation Security Administration


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