Fear of (“Disabled” and/or “Sick” Passengers) Flying

While I try not to get angry at my brain for its frequent malfunctions, it’s more difficult to resist reacting negatively to externally imposed challenges/idiocies. (Cue rant.)

I recently discovered that Air Canada requires all passengers with epilepsy to obtain written permission from their doctor and submit a signed form at least forty-eight hours before each flight. They don’t make allowances for different kinds of epilepsy, nor do they take into consideration seizure frequency, seizure control, or that the majority of seizures pass quickly and require little or no intervention.

I miraculously managed to take this picture while on a plane in BC without seizing. You’re welcome, flight attendants.

Epilepsy is not the only condition for which AC demands medical approval for travel; for example, passengers who use medical oxygen, have a chronic lung disease or a heart condition, or suffer from “an unstable medical condition (physical or psychological)” must also abide by the airline’s forty-eight-hours’-advance-notice procedure.

It’s interesting to note that travel between Canada and the States is subject to different, significantly less stringent guidelines due to the US Department of Transportation’s “Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel” (14 CFR Part 382), which explicitly prohibits an airline from forcing travellers to provide medical documentation. I like to think that I live in a country that is accommodating of people with disabilities and/or significant medical conditions, but there are few words besides “discrimination” to account for the fact that I’m supposed to follow a time-consuming and annoying pre-flight procedure while my “healthy” companions can book online, show up at the airport, and get on the flight with no complicated intervening steps.

I understand Air Canada’s wish to protect travellers (and itself—I’m sure liability issues heavily factored into the decision to implement this policy). I furthermore understand that certain medical conditions do call for a professional’s medical opinion as to whether it’s safe for the patient to travel by air. But why should people with Down syndrome or severe allergies be subject to AC’s “fit to travel” rule? Why not, for that matter, everyone with a family history of heart disease or presenting risk factors for heart attack?

More immediately relevant, why epilepsy, which Air Canada treats as a homogeneous disease rather than the multifarious disorder it is?  I’m not saying that there aren’t circumstances in which disclosure and pre-trip clearance would safeguard both passenger and staff from potential crises, but such cases fall on the extreme end of the epilepsy spectrum. Obliging everyone labelled as “epileptic” to go through the hassle of a medical visit prior to each and every flight is not just discriminatory. It’s also evidence of a widespread problem: that misconceptions about epilepsy are going unchecked.

What my superficial rant boils down to is that I take exception to the lumping together of everyone diagnosed with epilepsy, with the perpetuation of stereotypes and misinformation, and with the assumption that it’s OK to make me jump through hoops because someone embedded in Air Canada’s bureaucratic machinery has decided that I am a potential encumbrance without considering the particulars of my situation.

And now I’ll continue preparing for an upcoming trip. I have yet to fill in the requisite paperwork.


4 thoughts on “Fear of (“Disabled” and/or “Sick” Passengers) Flying

  1. It’s strange how little people know about this disorder. I think everyone thinks “grand mal” when they think of epilepsy. I have epilepsy. I’ve never had a grand mal (or tonic-clonic or whatever they are calling it these days). I think it’s important to note, like you did, that not too many seizures require medical attention afterward. There are so many different types of seizures that it is ridiculous to put us all into one category. I was talking about epilepsy once at my old job, and a woman had the gall to say “you have a seizure, wouldn’t you be like on the floor shaking and peeing all over yourself?” In one statement, she’d shown me the ignorance of society to this disorder. I’ve gotten to the point where I just keep it to myself. I have complex partials, and only if I told someone I was having one would they even know. Good post!

  2. That’s crazy!

    As someone with 3 immediate family members who have seizure disorders (either well-controlled on meds, or in ‘remission’) I can’t believe the ridiculousness of Air Canada’s policy. I would much rather sit next to someone on a plane with a seizure disorder than an alcoholic, or someone with borderline personality disorder, or for that matter, uncontrolled diarrhea. Surely, there’s another airline to use?

  3. I already disliked air travel because of all the hassle around terrorism, this makes me even less inclined to fly. I wonder if they apply this policy to flights from the UK? It is often cheaper to go to Indianapolis with air Canada via Toronto.

  4. That’s crazy! I had no idea that Air Canada requested documents from your doctor, such a great country too. I live in the UK, I can just imagine my doctor sighing at stamping yet another unnecessary form.

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