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Flying with a Disability

Flying with a disability can be an easy and pleasant experience. Many airlines offer services that ensure the safety and well-being of people with disabilities. Looking into what services the airlines provide, and arranging the services you need in advance when possible, will help reduce stress and make your flight more pleasant.

Flying with a Disability

Here, we will outline four stages of a successful flight when flying with a disability:

  1. Pre-travel
  2. Travel day
  3. Onboard the flight
  4. Arriving

1. Pre-Travel

Researching in Advance

Fliers should look into what kinds of accessibility services airlines offer before they buy tickets. They should also learn about any legal requirements of their destination related to their disabilities, such as whether they need to carry a prescription for any medications.

Booking Trips

Most airlines require that people needing assistance book flights at least 48 hours in advance. Some airlines try to accommodate fliers travelling for compassionate reasons. When booking, fliers should explain what their needs are in detail. Needs may include:

  • Personal safety briefings before take off
  • Seating in a certain area of the plane, such as near the front or away from emergency exits

The airline should confirm its accommodations in writing. Additionally, fliers should bring the written confirmation with them.

2. Travel Day


People who are flying with a disability should arrive at the airport earlier than the suggested time. This way, if they need to move slowly or transfer between mobility devices, they have lots of time to do so. People with disabilities are often invited to board airplanes early. Fliers with invisible disabilities who want to do so should identify themselves to airport staff. Staff can often be found at desks near the gate.

While fliers are waiting to check-in,  seats are often made available for people who cannot stand in long lines. Airport staff will:

  • Direct people who cannot see maps of the airport to their gate
  • Help fliers to find and settle in their seats
  • Store or retrieve carry-on baggage

Staff help could also involve lifting people who cannot use stairs or moving stable armrests. Staff may also allow support people who will not be boarding the flight to take passengers to it.

Travelling with Mobility Devices

Some people may go through security screening by means of a private search, especially if they use larger mobility devices or cannot pass through metal detectors.

Travelling with Service Animals

There should be no cost for service animals travelling within Canada. However, owners may need to show that their animals are certified or wearing harnesses.

Travelling with Oxygen

Many airlines allow fliers to bring their own oxygen equipment while others may supply it for a fee.

3. Onboard the Flight

Mobility Devices and Service Animals on the Plane

Fliers may be able to board planes in their own mobility devices, or they may transfer to boarding wheelchairs. Devices can be stowed with their checked luggage. Airlines cannot charge an extra fee for storing mobility devices.

Fliers should be able to give staff the following details about their devices:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • How devices should be stored or handled

A person in a boarding wheelchair may be able to access the washroom in some planes but not others.

If you use a service animal, the airline should ensure that there is room for your animal to lie at your feet during the flight.

Alerts to Visual or Oral Information

Most airlines have emergency safety plans in Braille or large print for fliers who read in those formats. Staff must also alert fliers who are Deaf or hard of hearing to any verbal announcements made during the flight. In-flight programs may have captioning or described video, but some flights may not offer this. So, it may be best to bring your own entertainment if you only watch described or captioned movies.

Food On-Board

Flight attendants may help with meals or snacks in the following ways:

  • Saying what food is available and how the trays are arranged
  • Opening packages
  • Pouring liquids or salad dressings
  • Cutting food

Airline staff are not required to help fliers:

  • Eat or drink
  • Use the washroom
  • Take medication
  • Communicate without speech or pen and paper

Airlines require that a support person provide this help and may offer a reduced price for support persons.

4. Arriving

When arriving at your destination, staff may assist you:

  • Through the airport
  • By finding places for service animals to relieve themselves
  • With checked baggage retrieval, including the return of any mobility devices

Lost or Damaged Devices

Fliers should report damaged or lost mobility devices right away. Airlines must provide temporary replacements and pay for repairs or permanent replacements.

Concerns While Travelling

Fliers who have problems or concerns while travelling should keep a record of them. They should also discuss them with the airline. If the issue cannot be resolved, fliers can contact the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).  The CTA helps mediate disputes between fliers and airlines.

Airlines can make travel accessible in many ways when going on a vacation. Potential fliers with disabilities should look into what services airlines can offer them. Fliers should choose an airline that meets their needs in order to have the best travel experience possible.