Flying in Canada: What to do if you need an extra seat?
I recently had a conversation with a client about how it can be very stressful flying because the seats are small and super uncomfortable for fat* individuals. This is a common issue in the world even outside of airplanes with many seats, patio seating arrangements, amusement park rides and other spaces are not designed with all bodies in mind. This is how weight stigma shows up in our world and I am excited that some companies are realizing this and taking action to support all bodies.
After my conversation I got curious! I researched the 2 main airlines in Alberta, Canada which are Westjet and AirCanada. I wanted to understand their policies on seat bookings for fat folks needing more than one seat. I was honestly expecting the worst and I was both pleasantly surprised and also saw that there was room for further advocacy and improvements.
If you need an extra seat here are the processes to go through on these 2 airlines:
On the seating accommodations section of the Westjet website there is an available option to request an additional adjacent seat for Canadian flights only. This means that this accommodation isn't available for flights outside of Canada which is restrictive and an issue. In order to make this request a medical form is required to be completed by your physician. Westjet will then hold these forms on your behalf for a minimum of 3 years and for longer so that you won't have to continue to have these forms completed each time. You can update the form at any time. The forms must be summitted at minimum 48hrs before departure.
Westjet Medical Form (choose the tab "additional seat" under Accessible Seating section to access the form and details)
On Air Canada's website the information for additional seat requests is under "Accessibility Services." This information was actually a bit tricky to locate on their website initially. Air Canada requires a medical form to be completed and summited a minimum of 48hrs before departure.
Air Canada Medical Form - this is on the chart of forms under "medical approval" and the form is titled "fitness for travel." The details your doctor needs to complete are on page 8.
Pros and Cons of this Process
Westjet will keep the medical form can be completed by on record for a minimum of 3 years. No note of Air Canada's policy on this.
Second seat is free of charge with both airlines and because the seat is for yourself it appears as though you will only pay taxes on one seat.
The medical form is not a dignified method of determining who should be eligible because the requirements on the form is for your body to be measured and these measurements recorded. This process may evoke negative emotions for folks of shame or embarrassment.
Not available for the Air Canada Signature Class section
Reservations for WestJet must be made by calling their Special Care Desk online and for Air Canada by calling their Air Canada Medical Assistance Desk. Bookings are not available to be made online.
Why are these processes so similar with the 2 main airlines in Canada?
In Canada the Government of Canada has set out under the Canada Transport Act the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations. These regulations outline the requirements for airlines to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Individuals needing an additional seat has been included with these regulations without specifically labelling who should be eligible when flying within Canada. I would assume then that ALL airlines who are based in Canada would be required to follow these regulations and would have their own process for approving 1 additional seat.
Flying Internationally from Canada
These 2 main airlines follow the Canada Transport Act regulations while flying in Canada but these regulations are not utilized when flying outside of Canada. I emailed Air Canada to ask how flyers would know if they were eligible for a free additional seat depending on which country the flight is landing.
Air Canada's Special Assistance Representative, Executive Centre, Customer Relations provided information that each flyer would be able to contact the call center MEDA desk. They may contact them directly at 1-800-667-4732 (Toll-free between Canada and the United States) or by email at ACmedical@aircanada.ca.
When I asked Westjet the same question they stated that they do not provide an additional seat for any international flights based on the Canadian Transportation Agency ruling. So in other words they are doing the bare minimum they are required to do by law. This is honestly extremely disappointing and I encourage you to send in an email to their Meddesk at email@example.com expressing your concern and asking them to do better.
Connect For Support
Weight stigma can increase stress and lead to avoidance of medical care and disengagement of joyous life activities. I can help to be your advocate and supporter as you navigate some difficult situations or conversations. Book a free 30 minute call here if you would like support.
* I use the word fat because it is being reclaimed by fat folks. I acknowledge not everyone will see this as a positive word because of past experience or trauma related to the use of this word.