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July 23, 2012

Air Canada

I'll tell you in advance that this is a story with a happy ending.

Lynne and I planned a trip to Victoria, BC this summer  and we started with the Great Canadian idea of going by train. As we learned more about the cars and facilities it got to be pretty daunting.  The roomettes aren't accessible, although my 26.5" wheelchair could probably fit through the door.  To make a long story bearable, the prospect of being a prisoner in a moving room for several days just didn't seem worth it, even if a companion travels free.

So we decided to fly, thinking anything can be tolerated for a few hours.  I became aware of Air Canada's caregiver policy when I asked about getting seating near the front of the plane and boarding by aisle chair.  I was urged to complete a Fitness for Travel Form which would alert Air Canada to my needs and allow a caregiver to travel almost free (caregivers pay the tax on the fare).

I was dubious.  The idea of sharing details of my medical history in order to board a plane runs counter to my nature.  On the other hand, the form says the caregiver is to physically assist in the event of an emergency evacuation, which goes directly to a basic problem with flying - namely getting out!

Anyway, we gave it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised at every turn.  Getting on an aisle chair is usually an exercise in manhandling.  At Air Canada, the person needing the chair is in charge, so employees unfailingly ask for instructions.  They are courteous, good humored, patient and capable.  No one patronized.  They talk to you, not your caregiver.  We boarded seamlessly in Halifax, stayed on the plane in Toronto, made a tight connection to a small propjet in Vancouver (a spiffy portable ramp, used gratefully by everyone on board).  My wheelchair was waiting at the door,  All the airports were nicely accessible.

Returning, we encountered a couple of misaligned jetways, making extra work for the aisle chair crew, but only a small inconvenience.

In short, Air Canada gets it.  They seem to have a very good communication system.  They know you're coming, the aisle chair is at the gate, the team is quick to get you on and off, there is an aisle chair on board.  This beats many US airlines, where access is an entitlement, but the aisle chair is often on the other side of the airport.

Air Canada is the exception.  Their example should be followed everywhere, but until it becomes a matter of legislation, it won't be.  Just try to get your wheelchair into the new Chickenburger on Queen Street.........

So go forth and multiply your travels!

Gus  Reed
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