Travel

Air Travel

Travelling away from home can be possible for people with neuromuscular disorders. There are a variety of wheelchair accessible attractions, accommodations and restaurants in many locations. Many commonly used assistive devices are highly portable. In addition, most major airlines accommodate people with special needs.

This section provides tips for people with neuromuscular disorders and their family members when traveling by air.

Equipment

  • If you do not require special seating and customized controls, it might be a good idea to rent a power wheelchair at your destination. This may save costs and lessen the risk of damage from air travel to your own equipment.
  • According to Transport Canada guidelines, batteries do not need to be removed from the wheelchair. The power needs to be disconnected, which is easily done by disconnecting a plug.
  • If possible, remove any parts that may break easily, such as the joystick, adapted controls, headrest, footrests and armrests. Pack these in a large storage container and include as checked baggage. The airline should not charge for this as it is part of your wheelchair.
  • If parts don’t come off the wheelchair and they are breakable, they should be wrapped in plastic and marked with brightly coloured tape.
  • Consider pinning a note to the chair outlining how to release the gears, best place to lift the chair and a request for careful handling due to the cost.
  • If your wheelchair is damaged during travel, it is the airline’s responsibility to pay for repairs and rental equipment during the repair period. Airline staff should have access to a list of local medical suppliers who can do repairs. If this happens, remember to file a damage report before leaving the airport.
  • Depending on personal needs and preferences, the wheelchair can be brought to the door of the aircraft for boarding and deplaning. It is a good idea to ask the flight attendant to have the captain radio ahead to the destination so the ground crew is aware of your specific needs.

Airline Accessibility Programs

  • Both Air Canada and WestJet have a One Person, One Fare program. The program allows one attendant to travel for free for destinations within Canada with a medical certificate. The medical form must be completed prior to air travel and is good for up to five years.
  • When booking flights, always request advance seat selection, despite the small extra charge . If you advocate that this is discriminatory, the airline may waive the extra charge. Only certain rows on most planes have moveable armrests, which make transfers easier. Airline regulations state that individuals who cannot walk easily must sit in a window seat, which is often hard to move into.  With negotiation, most flight attendants will accommodate sitting in the aisle seat as long as you say the caregiver takes the risk of sitting in the inside seat.
  • If you need extra support for posturing, consider bringing a backpack with pillows, a neck cushion and a chest restraint. Some airlines may limit you from using a chest restraint, but with persistence and an easy demonstration of how to release the belt, the flight attendant will usually allow it.
  • When boarding the airplane, you may need to transfer onto a very narrow Manton or Washington chair that will fit down the aisle of the aircraft. Airline or airport staff are supposed to be trained to provide assistance, but often there isn’t someone available who is capable of supporting the heavy back side of a lift. When possible, it’s usually a good idea to have your own caregiver support the transfers. You can also consider using a sling for transfers. Remember to take advantage of priority boarding!

Publications

Commercial Air Travel: A Handbook for People with Neuromuscular Weakness

 

Useful Links

Travel Guide for Persons with Disabilities

produced by the Canadian Transportation Agency

Air Canada: Information for Customers with Special Needs

 

WestJet: Information for Customers with Special Needs

 

Planat.com

a website sponsored by the Rick Hansen Foundation that offers consumer reviews of the accessibility features of places and properties across the globe from a mobility, sight and hearing perspective

 

By Jeff Sparks, National Director, Volunteer Engagement and Special Initiatives
With Contributions by Ken Kramer, Luke Melchior, Claredon Robichaud and Bill Tillier

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