Free medical flights give hope to locals needing help with travel costs

For almost 30 years Hope Air has been arranging free flights for small towns and rural communities who require specialized medical care

For almost 30 years Hope Air has been arranging free flights for people living in small towns and rural communities who require specialized medical care only available in the larger centres.

Long distance travel to and from those hospitals and treatment facilities is frequently needed on a last-minute basis, and that’s expensive.

The inability to pay for a plane ticket puts the health of low income Canadians at further risk because often they cancel or delay treatment due to the travel costs.

Hope Air is the only registered national charity that provides free flight to people who need to access to a higher level of care that is not available in their local community, said Anna duBois. the charity’s development manager.

Hope Air is unique in that it has the capacity to arrange a flight for someone who lives in Trail, for example, but needs to see a specialist in Toronto,” she explained. “At the same time, because we have a very good client management system we can ensure that funds given to us locally are used locally.”

One of the top five medical flight routes in the province is out of the Trail airport with planes headed to Vancouver, said DuBois, adding that so far this year there’s been 113 bookings scheduled from the Trail Regional Airport.

Trail resident Dorisse Metcalfe has booked her husband Peter’s life saving flights to Vancouver for a number of years through Hope Air, so he can access the renal program and nephrologists at St. Paul’s Hospital.

The Metcalfes live on a limited income, and wouldn’t be able to fly Peter to the coast about six times a year on Pacific Coastal Airlines without the aid from Hope Air.

“They have been really great and saved us a lot of money,” said Dorisse. “I would like people who are in a financial situation to know about Hope Air,” she continued. “It’s important because when you don’t have a big bank account or people around to support you, there’s not a lot you can do.”

Often she needs to book Peter’s flights on a moments notice, but all it takes is one phone call to Hope Air, and his itinerary is arranged.

“All I need to do is drive Peter to the airport, he shows his ID and that’s it.”

She said that there’s never been a cancellation of a Pacific Coastal Airlines flight out of the Trail airport, and the carrier has been wonderful in supporting her husband’s medical needs.

“They ask if he needs special boarding or if you need extra leg room, or prefer to sit on your own,” Dorisse noted. “We’ve always been very satisfied and I can’t say enough good things.”

Columbia Power is a local supporter of the nationally recognized charity, and earlier this month donated $2,500 to help eight local residents access the free flights.

“We are so pleased to support the efforts of Hope Air,” said Sue Dyer, the company’s vice president of operations. “They make a difference in the lives of families in our communities.”

So far, 64 flights have originated from the airstrip for Trail residents with nervous system, kidney and bladder ailments, musculoskeletal diseases and cancer.

Hope Air estimates that for every one client supported with a direct flight, the positive impacts reach between 10 and 50 people in the community who have a vested interest in that person’s need to access healthcare including parents, siblings, friends, and teachers.

Over 100 volunteers help the charity’s nine paid employees maintain long-standing partnerships within the aviation industry that enable Hope Air to maintain a certain number of free or discounted flights.

DuBois said over the years, the charity has forged strong partnerships with national and regional

airlines, which keeps costs low and provides Hope Air the ability to offer more flights.

Occasionally, companies with their own planes can support Hope Air with free flight, she noted, but 70 per cent of its flights are funded by financial contributions from donors.

Since Hope Air’s first flight in 1986, over 86,000 free flights have been arranged and the charity has become a national resource for people of all ages suffering from a wide range of illnesses.

From January to June this year, 22 per cent of the free flights were donated by commercial airlines and private pilots, and 78 per cent purchased with donor funds.

The top five volume routes in that time included 113 booked flights from Trail to Vancouver; 168 from Terrace to Vancouver; 454 from Prince George to Vancouver; and 465 from Kelowna to Vancouver.