I. Accessible travel: for all, to everywhere
This guide was written to provide advance travel information for persons with mobility, sensory and/or cognitive disabilities.
Preparing to travel? This guide will help. It will give you some ideas about how to plan and conduct your journey. It describes accessible services and features for people with disabilities who use airplanes, trains, passenger ferries and buses that cross a provincial or Canadian border. You'll know more about the services available for travellers with disabilities. You'll be able to plan your trip with confidence, and to take charge of your travel experience!
Canada's transportation system is open to all. More and more, the companies that move people across Canada are finding ways to meet the needs of travellers with disabilities.
As the transportation system becomes more accessible, though, a traveller with a disability cannot assume that all required services will be automatically available. Any journey takes some planning.
You'll find one important piece of advice repeated throughout this guide: talk with your transportation company ahead of time. Let them know how they can help. Not all disabilities are obvious, but when travel agencies and transportation companies know what you require and have the time to respond, they will usually do all they can to help.
A. How to use this guide
This guide is set up to help you plan your trip, anticipate the questions and prepare for the challenges that travel can present. It begins with some things to consider as you plan your route and select your transportation company. You'll find suggestions about how to make your reservations, either directly with the company, through your travel agent or online.
Then we move on to look at your journey from start to finish. First, we'll talk about the terminal, then about getting on board. We'll describe some issues that can arise along the way, and how to plan ahead to your arrival at the other end. We'll provide you with some handy reminders and some advice about what to do when things don't turn out as you expected. Also, at the end of this guide there is a section about useful information sources and an index to help with quick searches. We have also created a reservation checklist that can be removed from the centre of the booklet for your use.
This guide doesn't have all the answers because we are just one of many organizations that manage Canada's transportation system. We share responsibility with the provincial and territorial governments. Broadly speaking, the Agency can help you with accessibility-related information about travel by air, rail, provincial ferries and buses that cross provincial borders.
If you're not sure who handles what, give us a call at 1-888-222-2592 or by TTY at 1-800-669-5575. Or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll point you in the right direction.
B. Planning helps
As a traveller with a disability, you should not face restrictions on when you can travel, or how, or on which fare. You should not be asked to pay extra for a disability-related service, but there are exceptions. You will need to plan your trip ahead of time, at least 48 hours in advance, and know how to get help if you need it along the way. By planning early, you can get more information about your options and ensure that the transportation company has enough time to provide the service you need.
Your preparations will make your travel easier and more enjoyable. Here are four useful steps:
- Determine your needs;
- Get information before you make decisions;
- Identify which transportation companies can meet your needs; and
- Get written confirmation about your accessibility arrangements when you book your travel.
II. Finding information
It's always a good idea to gather information about your trip well before you go. Use your travel agent or the transportation company as resources. Their Web sites and customer service staff can answer questions about the services you will receive during your trip. If you need information in an alternative format, ask your transportation company what they have available to meet your needs (for example large print publications or an electronic version). Do not assume that others know your needs.
It often pays to shop around. Services vary. Some may not be available everywhere. You may find that one company is better equipped than another to meet your specific needs. Ask questions. Compare answers. You'll get more control over your journey.
A. Canadian standards for accessible transportation
There are Canadian regulations for accessible transportation that service companies must follow. The Personnel Training for the Assistance of Persons with Disabilities Regulations require transportation companies to train their employees and contracted personnel on how to provide services to persons with disabilities. There are also specific regulations that apply to passenger aircraft with 30 or more seats that operate within Canada.
In addition to these regulations, transportation companies have agreed to meet or exceed the accessibility standards that we have published in our Codes of Practice. There are codes for air; passenger rail; ferry services that cross a provincial or Canadian border; communications with travellers with disabilities; and terminal accessibility. We developed the standards in consultation with transportation companies and groups representing persons with disabilities. The standards should be respected everywhere, but they are not a service guarantee. Your best approach is to ask your transportation company for details about how it will meet your needs.
Transport Canada also has a Bus Code of Practice for scheduled intercity bus services.
You'll find the regulations, codes and other information about accessible travel on our Web site or by contacting us.
B. Travelling outside Canada
Our tips can also help you if you travel outside the country. Remember, though, that Canadian standards and rules don't apply in other countries. In some places, travel is very accessible, but in many other places it is not.
A reminder: You will need a passport. It is an essential document for international travel, but in some countries you may also need a visa, health certificate, and proof of vaccination.
If you use a service animal, you should ask ahead about whether you might need an international health certificate and proof of vaccination for the animal. It is recommended to always carry certification for your service animal.
If you are taking along any medication, ask about how it will be handled at security checkpoints.
Note: Some products sold over the counter in Canadian drug stores require prescriptions in other countries, including the United States. You may not be able to bring your medication into the country without a prescription.
Ask before you go what you can and cannot take with you. You can get information from your travel agency or transportation company, from the governments of the countries you visit, and from travel publications and Web sites.
III. Take charge through your plan
From the information you have gathered, it's time to build your travel plan and book it through your agent, directly with the transportation company or online.
When you make your reservation, mention your disability and what your service needs are. Ask your transportation company about what other services they may have. You may also check their Web site for information.
If you need any services from your transportation company, give them as much notice as possible. Companies are expected to arrange most services for you when you give them at least 48 hours notice. With less than 48 hours notice, they should make a reasonable effort to help you.
You can arrange to receive help at several points along your journey, such as:
- checking in;
- moving through the terminal;
- boarding, connections and disembarking;
- storing and retrieving baggage;
- moving to and from washrooms;
- transferring from a personal wheelchair to a seat, including using a boarding chair; and
- moving through customs and immigration zones.
You may want a friend or family member to help make your way through a terminal. Ask ahead of time if you can get a temporary pass to get your escort through the secure zone to the boarding area.
Note: In cases of unmanned stations, such as remote railway stops, a traveller may have to make their own arrangements for boarding. Ask your travel agency or the railway about alternatives.
You should note that transportation companies are not required to provide assistance with:
- eating and drinking;
- taking medication;
- using washrooms; or
- communicating without a pen and paper or without speaking.
If you need this help, your transportation company may require you to travel with a personal attendant. It may offer a discount or even a free ticket for your attendant.
Note: You should get confirmation in writing about the services you will receive. This will help you to verify arrangements before you leave and again along the way.
You will also have to plan on how you will get from home to the terminal and from the final terminal to your destination. In larger communities, there is a variety of accessible transportation available from taxis and buses to rental cars. Smaller communities may have fewer choices. You may need to reserve ahead of time to make sure your ride is available to get you from point A to point B.
1. Mobility aids
Many transportation vehicles don't have much free space. Some companies may require you to tell them at least 48 hours before your travel if you use a power wheelchair, a scooter, or a similar mobility aid. They may not be able to carry large mobility aids. If that happens, the company should be able to tell you about other arrangements that can be made to transport your mobility aid.
When you plan your trip, ask the following questions:
- Can I board with my own wheelchair? Are there tie-downs for safety?
- Can mobility aids be stowed on board, or must they be checked in? Be prepared to offer the weight and measurements of your mobility aid(s).
- Is there an on-board wheelchair?
- Can the on-board wheelchair get in and out of the washroom?
- Which seats are the most accessible (for example: moveable armrests, close to washroom, close to entrance)?
Note: At least one tie-down should be available in each train to allow one person to remain in their wheelchair, provided it can fit through the doorways and aisles. Not all trains have enough space for a large wheelchair. Also, if you need sleeping accommodations, it is best to book early as there are usually a limited number of accessible rooms on overnight trains and ferries.
If you need ground transportation to or from the terminal, you might want to arrange this in advance. A ground transportation company can easily transport folding wheelchairs, walkers and other small mobility aids. If your mobility aid is larger and the company cannot accommodate you, they are expected to offer an alternative at no extra cost.
2. Medical clearance
You do not usually need medical clearance to travel. You also do not need to discuss the details of your disability, but there are exceptions. For example, if you use a wheelchair or need oxygen, this can involve more discussion about your disability. An airline may want you or your doctor to talk to its medical department about travelling with a personal attendant, using oxygen or requests for additional seating due to a disability which may include obesity. Be clear on exactly what your service needs are and ask about the services you can get.
Note: Airlines have rules about how they handle oxygen supplies, and may not allow yours on board.
3. Service animals
When travelling in Canada, there should be no charge for your service animal. Your transportation company may ask you to confirm that your service animal has been trained for its role, to show its training certificate, and to ensure that it is properly harnessed. You can ask the company to make sure that there is enough floor space for your service animal to remain at your feet. Check to make sure you know about the different regulations for your service animal when travelling, especially to another country. For more information resources, see Section VII: Useful information sources.
IV. On your way
It's time to go! You will soon be at your destination. Let's review a number of issues that can arise along the way, beginning with your ride to the terminal.
You can check ahead for information on parking areas, drop-off and pick-up areas, and other accessible services. Terminals provide this information by phone and on their Web sites. You should plan your ride well ahead, selecting from options that include a private car, a taxi or a shuttle bus.
If you arrive by private vehicle, you can expect to find a convenient drop-off near the door. But of course, many other people will also try to get as close to the building as possible, so you may face congestion and delay. There may be a traffic control officer who can guide you safely to the drop-off point. As well, if you choose to park at the terminal, there should be accessible parking nearby.
Be aware of your transportation company's check-in time to give yourself enough time to get there, so that you're not in a last-minute rush to check in and board. Most companies allow persons with disabilities to board ahead of the crowd. Also give yourself some extra time if you need help to get through the terminal and to transfer to another mobility aid.
A. Moving through the terminal
Getting from the terminal entrance to the boarding area can be a voyage in itself. Boarding areas may be far away. Many terminals publish maps of their interiors on their Web sites so you can chart your own course ahead of time.
There may be long lines at check-in counters and security checkpoints. If you can't stand for long periods, you can ask for an alternative such as a chair while you wait your turn. The terminal is also expected to provide seating in and between entrance and boarding areas for people who find it difficult to stand in lines or move around.
1. Finding help
Inside larger terminals, you will probably find a help desk near the entrance where you can get information and help. Some terminals may have automated information kiosks or information dispensers. These are expected to be usable by travellers with disabilities.
If you had arranged for a friend or family member to help you get through the terminal ahead of time, your transportation company will give your escort a temporary pass through secure zones.
B. Checking in
When you check in, confirm that you will receive the services you requested when you bought your ticket. If you had asked your transportation company to detail the arrangements in writing, bring the document with you in case anything isn't clearly understood by the staff at the counter.
You can ask the staff to help you through the terminal all the way to your seat on board. If you have a service animal, ask to be guided to an area where it can relieve itself, if necessary.
1. Mobility aids
If you use a power wheelchair or other mobility aid, your transportation company may need time to prepare it properly for the trip. Somewhere between check-in and boarding, you may need to transfer to a boarding wheelchair. You can ask to delay this as long as possible, and, if necessary, ask for help to make your way to the boarding gate. You may ask how your mobility aid will be secured and stored on board.
A railway may ask you to transfer to a smaller wheelchair if your mobility aid won't fit into the rail car. Trains also have limited wheelchair tie-downs, and not all trains have baggage cars to store your mobility aid. You might have to transfer to a seat, or take another train if your chair is too large. These are reasons why you would be wise to ask how the railway can meet your needs well before you travel.
2. Security screening
You may have to go through a security screening process depending on the type of travel. Screening officers may want to see your boarding pass, and they may ask to see prescriptions if you bring your medications on board. Keep your passport, boarding pass, prescriptions and any other additional documents close at hand.
In Canadian airports, it is the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) officers who screen passengers entering the secure zones and boarding areas. For more information see Section VII: Useful information sources.
Note: Wider mobility aids may not fit through screening areas, and some passengers with disabilities must avoid metal detectors. There may be special procedures for service animals. Screening may involve being searched by hand by a screening officer. You can ask that this be done in a place away from public view.
Transportation companies typically offer travellers with disabilities a time to board before the other passengers. This ensures you have the time you need to settle into your seat before the rush of passengers. If you wish to pre-board and have an invisible disability, identify yourself to an employee since they might be unaware of your needs.
On board, you can ask for help to find your seat and to transfer into and out of it. As always, it is best if you have requested this help ahead of time so that the company is ready to assist you. You can also ask for help to put away and retrieve your carry-on baggage.
If you travel with a service animal, the transportation company should seat you in a row with enough space for your animal to lie down.
Note: There are safety regulations that do not allow certain travellers to be assigned emergency exit row seats. For example, children, pregnant women and passengers with disabilities and service animals cannot be assigned emergency exit row seats.
In general, larger airports use a covered ramp, called a bridge, between the terminal building and the aircraft cabin. At some airports, passengers must go outside and use a staircase to board the aircraft. If you need help or cannot use stairs, you should let your transportation company know when you make your reservation. As an alternative to stairs, some airports may use a mechanical lift or carry you by hand onto the airplane.
Many seat armrests along the aisle are moveable to make it easier to get in or out of the row of seats. Sometimes the armrests are latched in place. You can ask for help from the cabin crew.
If you request assistance at least 48 hours before your travel, the railway will help you at the ticket counter and to get on the train, including navigating stairs or step boxes on the platform. Lifts are also available at some stations.
Larger stations usually have a crewmember available to help you if you made a request ahead of time. Smaller railway stations may have only one employee, or even none. You may need to get from the terminal to the platform on your own if you haven't made arrangements ahead of time.
In the passenger car, some aisle seats may have moveable armrests to make it easier to get into and out of seats.
Ferries often have two or more decks that are connected by staircases. Some have wheelchair-accessible elevators, but not all do. There may also be times when large waves roll the ship and make the elevator unsafe to use. You can ask the crew at any time for help.
Many buses have lifts or ramps for boarding and can allow you to travel with your mobility aid. Other buses have low-level floors which allow access from the curb, but some buses do not have any boarding devices. In some cases, a traveller may have to transfer to a boarding chair provided by the bus company.
If you need help, it is best to let the transportation company know at least 48 hours before your travel. The transportation company will ensure that an accessible bus service that meets your needs is provided. You can also ask that the company help you get from the ticket counter, through the terminal and onto the bus.
D. Getting there
Once you've settled into your space, take a moment to find a briefing card with safety information. Most transportation companies will provide a safety demonstration before departure. Anyone with a disability can request a personal safety briefing. It's a good idea to do this when you make your reservation. You can also ask that the employees keep you informed about announcements regarding weather, delays, baggage retrieval, and connections.
2. Meals or snacks
The on-board crew can offer limited help with meals or snacks. They can describe the choice of food and how it is laid out on a tray, pour salad dressing and other liquids, open packages and cut food.
All washrooms are expected to be accessible for travellers with disabilities, with grab bars, call buttons and other amenities. Not all washrooms have enough room for persons using their own wheelchairs. Some washrooms can accommodate on-board wheelchairs while others cannot and it may be necessary to pivot on your own using the grab bars. Ask ahead of time what kind of washroom you will find on board.
4. Medical equipment
If you travel with medical equipment such as respirators or ventilators with power supplies, ask your transportation company what its policies are as there may be restrictions.
You may be able to bring personal oxygen equipment on board, such as a portable oxygen concentrator or oxygen cylinder. Some companies may provide a personal oxygen supply while you travel. Ask ahead of time about the charges and conditions that may apply to your requested service.
5. Mobility aids
All rail passenger trains should be equipped with at least one on-board wheelchair that can access all the cars on the train. As well, all passenger trains should offer at least one wheelchair tie-down in a coach car with a wheelchair-accessible washroom.
Rail cars and ferries often have lounges and cafeterias where you can relax and dine. You can expect to find at least one table accessible to persons using a wheelchair. You may have to use an on-board wheelchair if space is limited.
6. Sleeping accommodation
Overnight trains and ferries offer accommodations for travellers who use wheelchairs. The rooms usually include a washroom big enough for a wheelchair to get in and out easily.
E. On arrival
You've arrived at your destination. Now it's time to gather your baggage and head towards the exit of the terminal building. You can ask the staff to help you from your seat through the terminal all the way to the exit. You can also ask to be guided to an area where your service animal can relieve itself.
Many large communities have a variety of accessible transportation such as taxis, buses and rental cars, whereas smaller communities may offer fewer choices. The best bet is to have arranged your ride ahead of time.
1. Mobility aids
Your mobility aid should be returned to you at your destination in the same condition as when you checked it in. If your mobility aid is lost or damaged, the transportation company is expected to provide you with a suitable temporary replacement until either it finds your aid, repairs or replaces it. The company is also expected to pay for any replacements or repairs. It is best to report damage to your mobility aid before leaving the terminal, otherwise it may be difficult to establish that the damage was done by the transportation company.
Here's a list that should help you to take charge of your trip. All travellers with disabilities can use it, although some items may not apply to you.
When you book your trip:
- Identify yourself as a person with disability-related service needs.
- Get information about schedules, fares, services and equipment to meet your needs.
- Give your transportation company at least 48 hours notice about your disability-related needs and what services you require.
- Ask what help is available at check in, moving through the terminal and boarding, if you need it.
- Request appropriate seating to meet your specific needs.
- Ask for a written confirmation of all arrangements and services you will receive.
- Confirm that all information - such as the date and time of your departure - is correct.
- Ask about quarantine or permit requirements for your service animal in the countries you'll be visiting.
Leading up to your departure:
- Make arrangements to get to the terminal.
- Arrange for help to get to the check-in counter, through the terminal and to board.
- Make any reservations you need for ground transportation to get to and from the terminal.
- Get any additional documents needed.
Items to bring:
- Bring your photo identification or passport, and any visas you may need.
- Bring your provincial health card as well as any private health insurance cards and additional documents needed.
- Bring written confirmation of all arrangements and services you will receive.
- In your carry-on luggage, bring your medication. Remember to make sure that all prescribed medications carry a pharmaceutical label, or a pharmacist's label with a name that matches the name on your ticket and boarding pass.
- Bring your service animal certification and its international health certificate in your carry-on luggage.
Before you leave for the terminal:
- Verify that your departure is not delayed.
- Leave time to transfer to a smaller wheelchair, if necessary.
- Place your medication in your carry-on luggage and within easy reach.
- Make sure that all relevant documents, such as your passport, are within easy reach.
When at the terminal:
- Reconfirm all arrangements when checking in.
- Ask to be guided to an area where your service animal can relieve itself, if necessary.
- If you must check in your mobility aid, inspect it and note the condition.
Before leaving your destination terminal:
- Inspect your mobility aid thoroughly again.
- Immediately report to your transportation company any loss of, or damage to, your mobility aid which occurred during transportation.
VI. Resolving problems
Sometimes even the best-planned trip can go wrong. If a problem arises or you have a concern related to your trip, let the transportation company know. Often, a discussion is all that's required to fix the problem or address the concern.
Keep your receipts and documents, and a record of who you talked with and when. It's a good idea to write a description of what happened as soon as you can, while the details are still fresh in your mind.
If you have tried to discuss your concern with the company and aren't satisfied with the result, you can contact the Canadian Transportation Agency. Our staff can facilitate a conversation with the transportation company, which can lead to addressing the concern.
In the event that an informal discussion doesn't produce results, mediation may work. If you and the transportation company agree, you can place the matter before an Agency-appointed mediator. The mediator will work with you and the company to produce a solution that both sides can accept.
If these processes don't work, then you can have the Agency formally investigate your complaint. You and the company will need to file statements and evidence. We will make a binding decision. It can include corrective measures and a refund of the expenses that you incurred because of the problem. But the decision cannot include compensation for pain, suffering, or loss of enjoyment of a trip.
The formal complaint will produce a clear resolution of the issue, but it is possible that the results may not fully satisfy either you or the company. An informal discussion or mediation can often get faster and better results than a formal complaint.
A. How to contact the Canadian Transportation Agency
Canadian Transportation Agency
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N9
- Web site:
B. More about the Canadian Transportation Agency
The Canadian Transportation Agency is an independent administrative tribunal which operates like a court to render decisions on a case-by-case basis. The Agency's jurisdiction with respect to persons with disabilities, as reflected by Part V of the Canada Transportation Act, is to ensure that persons with disabilities have proper access to effective transportation services. The Agency makes decisions and orders to eliminate undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities in the federal transportation network.
The Agency administers regulations and Codes of Practice regarding accessible transportation. The Agency developed the codes in close consultation with organizations that represent Canadians with disabilities and the transportation industry.
The Agency also hears complaints from persons with disabilities. If informal facilitation or mediation cannot resolve a complaint, the Agency will formally hear the complaint and issue a decision.
Like a court, the Agency's decisions are binding and subject to judicial review by the Federal Court of Appeal and, ultimately, the Supreme Court of Canada.
VII. Useful information sources
Canadian Transportation Agency: offers a substantial amount of information for travellers with disabilities.
Canadian Transportation Agency
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N9
- Web site:
Transport Canada: administers the Bus Code of Practice, develops and implements government policies on accessible transportation, and researches accessibility issues.
330 Sparks Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N5
- 613-954-4731 / 613-998-8620
- Web site:
Transport Canada also provides a centralized source for information about accessible travel through a separate Web site called "Access to Travel."
Web site: www.accesstotravel.gc.ca
Office for Disability Issues: promotes the full participation of Canadians with disabilities in learning, work and community life.
Office for Disability Issues
105 Hôtel de Ville, 1st Floor
Gatineau, QC K1A 0J9
- 1-800-O-Canada (800-622-6232)
- Web site:
To navigate to Office for Disability Issues: select on the far left hand vertical menu "Policies and Programs," then select from the list "Disability Issues."
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority: has information about accessibility issues at airport security checkpoints.
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority
99 Bank Street, 13th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1P 6B9
- Web site:
Canadian Border Services Agency: has information about crossing the borders.
Canada Border Services Agency
Ottawa, ON K1A 0L8
- English 1-800-461-9999 / French 1-800-959-2036
- Web site:
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: has information about travelling in another country.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
Enquiries Service (BCI)
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2
- 1-800-267-8376 / 613-944-4000
- Web site:
Canadian Food Inspection Agency: has information about requirements for animals in foreign countries.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Animal Health and Production Division
59 Camelot Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0Y9
- Web site:
Government of Canada: has general information about all government services including passports.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0J9
ATTN: Canada Site c/o Canada Enquiry Centre
- 1-800-O-Canada (800-622-6232)
- Web site:
A. International information
International Transport Forum: provides information about accessible travel. The Forum is primarily a policy development organization with participation by more than 50 countries.
- Web site:
United States Department of Transport: provides information about accessible transportation.
- Web site:
As well, it has created a centralized information resource.
- Web site:
United Kingdom government: provides information about accessible transportation.
- Web site:
VIII. Reservation checklist
We attached our Reservation Checklist to help you when making your travel arrangements. This checklist is in the centre of the booklet and is removable. If you would like more copies of the checklist please visit our Web site or contact us – we'd be pleased to send you more.
Publications Feedback Survey: Please take a moment to fill out and submit this survey – your feedback will help us ensure that our publications reflect your interests and needs.
For more information about the Agency, please contact:
Canadian Transportation Agency
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N9
- Web site:
Available in multiple formats.
Catalogue No. TT4-14/2009E
© Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada