Dear Nurse Kris:
My Dad moved to Canada from Ireland, 60 years ago. It has been a decade since he has seen any of his seven siblings. He is 75 and now has dementia which seems to be advancing quite quickly. It is not possible for his siblings to travel here to visit, and it just makes more sense for him to go there. I would accompany him because he does not understand directions and likely could not do up his own seat belt on the plane. He’s otherwise in pretty good health, and when widowed several years ago, learned how to do decent housekeeping.
I’m in charge of his finances, and am his Medical Representative and have Financial and Legal Power of Attorney. He’s a Veteran and receives a modest pension from Veterans Affairs, and has a few younger buddies from the ANA Vets club that stay in touch and visit. With the price of air travel going up, it seems to be impossible financially, for him to travel back to see his family one last time. I cannot afford to pay both his air fare and mine, and my sis is unable to contribute. I’m not looking for handouts, but do you know of any way I can help my dad visit his siblings before he passes? Is there a special program somewhere that you know of, that accommodates situations like this?
Jay from Vernon, BC
Although I’m not a travel agent, and don’t have any connections to the travel industry, I checked around and there seems to be some great options for you. I found some discounted travel for both of you. I checked with Angel Med, out of Arizona, Virgin Atlantic, WestJet, and Air Canada. Angel Med is an urgent medical evacuation service so would not be an economical or appropriate selection (although I’m sure they are excellent at what they do), and Virgin Atlantic does not offer discounts for fares when the passenger knows in advance, they will require a “safety attendant”, according to the agent I spoke with.
Generally speaking, passengers who cannot attend to their own needs, need to be assisted getting in or out of their seats, or who cannot understand and follow safety instructions, require an “Attendant”. I found two airlines that offer free or discounted Attendant fares; WestJet and Air Canada.
Air Canada offers free travel in Canada and Internationally for Attendants. It is not guaranteed and is approved on an individual basis. The Air Canada Medical Assistance Program, requires a “Fitness for Travel” form to be completed by you and your dad’s physician (fees may apply for this from the doctor's office). You then need to submit this to Air Canada for review by their medical assessment department. This information is located at: http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/before/specialneeds_medical.html#how when Air Canada offers “deals of the week” which includes international travel. A last minute flight from Vancouver to Dublin, Ireland is currently posted as $2830, round trip, all taxes included. I would expect this to change depending on the season and availability of seats.
I checked with WestJet, who now fly to Ireland during the Summer only, who offer discounted fares for “Personal Attendants” with advance approval. They require form completion by your Dad’s physician. Their medical desk must authorize this and again is approved on a case by case basis. More information is at http://www.westjet.com/guest/en/travel/special-arrangements/special-needs/one-person.shtml. They post a fare as $1555, round trip, all taxes.
According to the example above of the discounted price from Air Canada, if the “Personal Attendant” rate from WestJet is less than $1275, then possibly WestJet is the less expensive choice. Again, as with all airlines, discounted flights depend on season and availability.
Canadian Affair is a UK based, discounted airfare website. Although based in the UK, they have a travel site especially for Canadians. Simply go to their website, hover your mouse over the “GB” and choose Canadian flag and click on it. Their travel partners have a large presence in Canada and include West Jet, Air Transat, and Virgin Atlantic. The discounted fare for your Dad, can be found at: http://www.canadianaffair.ca/en/winter-flights-to-uk-and-ie/.They advertise fares from Vancouver, BC, to the UK, for $700 return, all taxes included. Their participating airline partners include Air Transat, Virgin Atlantic, and WestJet. Canadian Affair, in and of themselves, do not offer free or discounted fares to Personal Attendants so the airfare for both of you could be roughly $1500 return.
I would book an appointment with your Dad’s physician to discuss this idea first, before you go to any trouble. Your Dad’s physician’s input, is extremely valuable and I would not disregard it. If the physician approves, then it looks like with a few phone calls Jay, you’ll be able to figure something out. Perhaps soliciting the assistance of a travel agent, will also be of help, as they are the experts at this. I encourage you to read each airline's terms and conditions so that you are making an informed choice. I don’t claim to have expertise in this area, but I do hope I’ve given you helpful information, and hope the two of you find a way to accomplish this.