August 20, 2019

Kristina Shelden, Resource Coordinator, PIRC

At the beginning of the summer, I was lucky enough to have joined the Spinal Cord Injury BC Airport Experience Tour and felt inspired to write up a blog including some of the things I learned!

When travelling with any kind of disability, it’s important to be prepared. With that in mind, here are six steps to help you achieve a successful, no-hassle trip.

Contact the airline directly

  • Expedia and those other travel sites don’t always reliably pass on your information to the airline, so it’s always best to call them directly to ensure they have proper notation on file about your needs.
  • This is a theme that will come up a lot in this blog: communicate, communicate, communicate!

Advocate strongly but politely for your care

  • Although most people will be kind and understanding, there are factors that could cause a kink in the works. You may need to help them understand your needs are valid, and that they are required to act upon upon them.
  • I find the best way to get the best help, is to remain polite, calm, and kind. It can be supremely frustrating, (don’t I know it), but keeping your tone in a way that will encourage them to remain calm as well, keeps you in a position of professional authority. You are the expert in your care, and you will likely have to educate at least one person on your journey. If you don’t end up having to, fabulous!!

Bring medications in your carry-on

  • Bring at least a good week or two’s worth of prescriptions in your carry-on; although, personally, I take all of them. The last thing you want is your luggage with your meds getting lost and you end up stuck in a potentially life-threatening situation without them.
  • I also recommend to research countries drug policies in advance to be sure that your medications are allowed.
  • Don’t forget those basic first aid supplies! You don’t need them until you need them. This PSA coming to you from my currently bleeding knee ode to an unfortunate misadventure in Cathedral Grove, BC, and the sad but inevitable death of a nice pair of leggings..

Leave the now-legal green at home

  • Advice from CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority; ie, the people who will stop you from getting on the flight if you’re carrying something they don’t allow): Do not bring medical marajuana – it is not worth the risk or hassle. Even if you’re flying to places where it is legal, like Colorado, they advise against it. Since marajuana is still illegal federally, and you’re crossing the border, you very may well get trouble. Same goes for flights to other countries.
  • Unfortunately, this currently includes CBD. Although the laws are a bit fuzzy here, it’s safest to leave it at home. Hopefully soon this will change, and I believe people are lobbying for it, especially since it is a non-psychoactive health supplement, but currently you’re still likely to run into potentially serious trouble as it’s derived from hemp, and hemp is still considered the same as marijuana in many places – which is illegal in many places.

Ask for a blue tag for your assistive device

  • This is a great tip I learned at the YVR experience. Likely the check-in attendants will automatically do this, but just in case, you can make sure that it’s done. This blue tag will allow you to take your assistive device right to the gate. They should pack your device in the planes cargo hold, and you should be given it back when you land, either right at the plane door, or back up top at the gate.
  • Note: sometimes large devices like electric chairs get stored on their side, so don’t worry! If you see them packing it in sideways, it’s actually because it has to be done.Some cargo holds don’t have a big enough entryway to allow the chair to be stored upright.
  • I find it’s a good idea to remember to advise everyone – the check in attendants, the gate attendants, the flight crew – that you have an assistive device that should be waiting for you at the end of your flight. Sometimes things get missed, and information isn’t passed along between these different departments/crews. Whether or not the airline takes responsibility, to make sure you’re good to go, I find it’s always helpful to keep repeating yourself to everyone, just in case.

Be Prepared, and do not fear asking for a Manager

  • Bring documentation, including prescriptions from doctors and/or doctors notes advising of your disability. If you have a battery-powered scooter, bring the documentation that proves you are allowed to bring your assistive device on the plane. If your crew isn’t properly trained, this information should hopefully help you avoid mix ups with your gate-to-gate access. You can find the rules on the CATSA website.
  • Again: advise your airline before your flight if you have a battery, to ensure your airline will approve of your device. Some airlines have different rules and it’s important to know beforehand to avoid any arguments and ruined trips.
  • The WestJet representative who was hosting the Spinal Cord Injury BC Airport Experience Tour advised that if your needs aren’t being met, to ask for a manager. Your needs are valid, and if the crew is not helping, you have a right to ask for management intervention.

For more information like this, and tons more, Spinal Cord Injury BC has excellent resources online, and in hard copy as well. Find the online version and a video series on their website at

Hard copies can be found at Spinal Cord Injury BC Offices.

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