Did you know that most airlines offer assistance services when needed to help us travel? One example is the transport of specialized equipment.
What about assistance for families and people living with disabilities? What about accompanying children who travel alone, or what about assistance dogs in the cabin? Many companies have a plan for these situations.
This article invites you to explore the existing assistance services, the conditions required to benefit from them and, if applicable, the cost of using them.
Assistance to children traveling alone
My daughter was eight years old when she flew alone to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A direct flight of less than three hours. She was going to see her American grandparents.
I signed the required documents, including a letter of consent and I was asked to stay at the airport until the plane took off. This is in the event that it doesn’t take off.
So I handed her over to the employee who came to pick her up. I must admit that I was the most worried of the three. The paternal grandparents picked her up a few hours later. After they, in turn, had signed the documents and shown the requested evidence.
This was the first of her few solo children’s trips. She has only good memories: a seat next to the flight attendant, games to keep her busy, special snacks and… the wings (pin) that the pilot gave her. More details for this type of service for example with Air Canada.
Some airlines accept unaccompanied children from the age of 4, such as Air France with its Kids Solo service, or from the age of 5, such as United Airlines.
Our major Canadian airlines, Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet, have a different policy. They require them to have reached their eighth birthday .
In addition, the flight must be non-stop. Children 8-12 years old can also be accompanied by a person they know who is 16 years old or older. And between the ages of 12 and 17, the child can travel unaccompanied.
Canadian carriers therefore require this accompaniment until the child is 12 years old. It can be purchased when the child is older but remains optional. Attention, anxious parents: yes, your thirteen-year-old son can fly without you.
- The service can be booked through the airline’s call centre or with a travel agent. WestJet has an online form for this purpose.
- Seats for this assistance service are few. I compare them to some Star Alliance award tickets under the Aeroplan program. It is therefore advisable to plan ahead.
- Fees ranging from $100 to $118 including taxes apply for each segment on both the outbound and return trips. They include of course the presence of a flight attendant. Then games, headphones, lunch if offered, snacks and beverages.
- Finally, companies offer reduced fares for assistance persons . This is in the event that a traveller cannot perform certain essential tasks (e.g. does not understand instructions, cannot move around alone in an emergency).
Assistance to families
Most of the time, parents and children travel together. Do you know about family assistance services?
- With a child under the age of six, look for the Air Canada family check-in panel. It’s designed for you. They are available at Montreal-YUL and Toronto-YYZ for all flights. Calgary-YYC, Edmonton-YEG and Vancouver-YVR offer them for domestic flights. And don’t forget to ask for the special luggage tag for children.
- Take advantage of the free pre-boarding. It will make it easier for little feet to go at their own pace. Parents will also be able to stow their luggage in the cabin before the rush starts.
- Use your right to sit together when your children are under 14. Standard seats are assigned free of charge a few days before departure.
- When flying, ask if activity books are available (North American flights). Or the travel bag full of activities (international travel). Transat also offers a kit containing infant care items. Also note that most planes have changing tables.
- Finally, some large aircraft (787-777-A330-Dreamliner) can install cradles in specific spaces that can be attached to the wall. They are for little ones under 25 pounds who are not yet sitting up. You have to request it. Here again, first come, first served.
Take the time to learn about the requirements for restraint devices such as harnesses and car seats that are required during flight. This applies to both babies under two years of age who are not travelling in an adult’s arms and older children. It is the responsibility of parents to make sure they carry these devices. Those must bear the Transport Canada approved seal.
Depending on the airline and the destination, fares for children under two years of age, who travel on their parents’ laps, vary. They range from completely free, paying only taxes, to 10% of the regular adult price. However, airlines consider that a child sitting on an adult is not safe. Specifically during take-off, landing and during turbulence.
Transport Canada then requires that children 2 years and older have their own seat. They pay the adult fare except for international travel. They can then benefit from a reduced fare if they are under 12 years old.
Finally, be aware that if the child is celebrating their second or twelfth birthday during the trip, the ticket will most likely be a hybrid fare… For example, baby on the way out, child on the way back.
Parents of infants and children may bring/register strollers and car seats at no charge. Depending on their size and if they are foldable, they can be stored in the passenger cabin and count as hand luggage. WestJet allows the substitution of one of these items with a baby park.
However, most of the time, this equipment is left and picked up at the gate.
Assistance to customers with special needs
In Canada, there is a regulation on the accessibility of transportation for people living with disabilities. Whether it is motor, visual, auditory or other. Airlines must offer assistance to these passengers, provided, of course, that their safety is not compromised. This is Regulation SOR/2019-244.
Assistance to people with reduced mobility
This service is for anyone who requires assistance, including a wheelchair, to get aroundAn employee will be able to accompany you through the various stages, from boarding to disembarkation. This includes checking in at the counter. Then passing through security and border control and stowing your carry-on baggage. Finally, retrieving your suitcase. Having experienced it recently, it’s priceless. And it’s free.
Any equipment belonging to the traveller, whether a walker, a scooter or an electric wheelchair, can be carried in the cabin or in the hold free of charge. If necessary, should their size not fit through the aircraft’s cargo door, the airlines still offer assistance here. Theydismantle, pack and reassemble the motorized mobility aid at no cost. Cool, isn’t it?
Assistance to customers with a hearing or visual impairment
During the booking process, a teletypewriter assists the operator who acts as a translator. They bridge the gap between the airline and the hearing impaired customer.
A video relay service is also available. As well as closed captioning that explains the safety procedures before take-off, at least on Air Canada. The entertainment system, when available, is also adapted for this clientele.
Passengers with visual impairments can get a menu and instruction card in large print or Braille. In addition, a touch indicator marks the row numbers. It is located at the bottom of the luggage compartment or on the aisle seats. I must admit that I had no idea! Did you know? There are also audio-tactile entertainment models on some aircraft. They allow the client to access audio content. Finally, WestJet offers audio recordings of selected print materials.
There is no reason why a traveller should not be able to fly because of a disability.
Assistance to clients with severe allergies: the buffer zone
We all know that airlines offer various types of in-flight menus on certain flights. Gluten-free, kosher, vegan, halal and many other meals. But when it comes to severe allergies, the life of the person is at stake. And allergies are not just about food.
This is where the concept of the buffer zone comes in. Each client must first have their medication or the necessary equipment to ensure their survival (inhaler, epipen, disinfectant wipes, etc.). The airlines have set up a reserved seating section. Depending on the airline, these are either the rows adjacent to the passenger’s seat or the last rows in economy class and the first row in other cabins.
And what happens in these buffer zones?
- The flight attendant informs nearby customers before departure, without identifying the passenger. They are advised not to consume products containing the allergen. Think of nuts, for example. If the allergy is to dogs and cats, they will not be included in the zone. Finally, the passenger will be able to get on board before everyone else to disinfect their seat. Let’s not forget that these are serious allergies.
Assistance and emotional support dogs
The case gets tougher here. Since the U.S. Department of Transportation has legislated this, Air Canada (March 2021) and WestJet (August 2021) only accept, free of charge, assistance dogs. Emotional support animals are excluded from the cabin if they cannot be transported in a cage at their owner’s feet like regular pets.
We only accept service dogs which are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. For domestic, international and Caribbean flights, service dog must have been individually trained by an organization or person specializing in service dog training.Air Canada
This regulation seems to echo the questioning situations of passengers who have travelled on board with their domesticated pig, their kangaroo or even their miniature horse. I am not making this up.
Still, small and large animals considered for emotional support will now have to comply with the same conditions as pets.
Several rules also apply to assistance dogs accepted in the cabin: the breed, the flight destination and the animal’s expected behaviour, for example.
As for Air Transat, emotional support dogs would still be accepted with their owners, but under conditions:
- Confirmation by the mental health professional or treating physician that you have a problem identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and require an emotional support dog to travel.
Airlines offer a number of assistance services that allow passengers with special needs to travel with them. We’ve touched on a few needs, but you should know that there are others that can be met.
It is possible to discuss this by contacting the company. I am thinking for example of the need for oxygen and breathing apparatus or the special rates for family emergencies.
A minimum of 48 hours notice, medical evidence, legal documents or other documentation to support the requests of the assistance services are sufficient to allow a comfortable flight. Let’s make the most of it!
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How can I benefit from the on-board assistance service?
Contact the airline you wish to book with directly or your travel agent to find out more about the services offered for the child escort service.
To benefit from a particular aid, such as mobility aid for example, contact the company at least 48 hours in advance.
At what age can our child travel alone?
This will depend on the airline chosen for your child’s flight. Air France offers the service to the youngest, from 4 years old, while Air Canada offers its service from 8 years old.
Where can I find information on the companies' assistance services?
You will find the general information you need to know in order to benefit from the assistance services: