Air Canada has been summoned to Ottawa to present a plan on how it intends to treat passengers with disabilities following three recent high-profile incidents.
Canada's Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez took to X, formally known as Twitter, on Friday (Nov. 3) to share his call to action, saying he will meet with Air Canada’s leadership, alongside Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera, next week to discuss recent events that have have made national and international headlines.
“They must present a plan to address this. Canadians expect Air Canada to do better,” Minister Rodriguez wrote, saying he was “horrified to learn about another incident on an Air Canada flight.”
The call comes one day after Air Canada admitted it violated Canadian disability regulations in the case of 50-year-old passenger named Rodney Hodgins, a B.C. man with cerebral palsy who was forced to drag himself off a flight in Las Vegas when he was told no wheelchair was available.
The Prince George resident said he used the strength of his upper body to pull himself down an airplane aisle in August, while his wife, Deanna, held his legs, after no one from the airline’s third-party ground team was around to help, according to a report in the Canadian Press.
In another incident, Ryan Lachance, a B.C.-based comedian with spastic quad cerebral palsy, says he was dropped and injured by Air Canada staff last May after his request tor use an eagle lift – a hoist designed for use on commercial jets – was denied.
Then, last month, there was Canada’s own Chief Accessibility Officer Stephanie Cadieux, who arrived in Vancouver on an Air Canada from Toronto on Oct. 20, only to learn that the airline had left her wheelchair behind.
“This was immensely frustrating and dehumanizing – and I was furious,” Cadieux wrote in a LinkedIn post about the incident.
“I want everyone to understand that when a person’s wheelchair is lost, so is their independence, safety, mobility, and dignity. Yet, airlines do not treat these pieces of medical equipment as the essential extensions of individual’s bodies that they are. The appropriate care and attention is not given and the result is situations like the one that happened to me on Friday.”
“As it stands, the consequences for this neglect by the airlines are only felt by the person with the disability, who must fight to hold the airline accountable, often with little or no success. Airlines have to take responsibility and they have to do better.”
In a statement provided to CBC News, Air Canada said it was conducting internal reviews in all three cases.
"In each case, we reached out to these customers to apologize, listen to their concerns, and offer compensation. More important to each of them though was that we commit to improve our services so that others do not have similar experiences," the statement reads.
In June, Air Canada finalized a three-year plan to increase accessibility for both customers and employees, and said it "fully supports the federal government's Accessible Canada Act and its aim to realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040."
The plan came following a report stating that two-thirds of people with disabilities faced barriers on federally-regulated planes and trains in Canada from 2019 and 2020.
Air Canada says it has "considerable resources" to make travel accessible, and employs 180 employees in Toronto to assist with mobility.
"In light of this, we are deeply disappointed and sincerely regret when there are mobility service lapses that result in inconvenience and travel disruption," reads the airline’s latest statement.
IATA notes global progress
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that, globally, there are “significant satisfaction levels” among air passengers who use special assistance services.
Releasing the results of its 2023 Global Passenger Survey (GPS) related to accessibility of air transport last month, IATA said that 80 per cent of travellers using special assistance services said their expectations were met.
“As demand for special assistance grows, we will need to find more tailored ways to meet the needs of travellers with special needs,” said Linda Ristagno, IATA’s Assistant Director for External Affairs. “At present, a special assistance request is almost always met with wheelchair services. But the actual requirement of the traveler may be very different.”
“The traveller may simply need help with wayfinding through crowded airports, or only have difficulty negotiating stairs, or may be totally mobile but visually impaired. We are working on ways to ensure that wheelchairs are available when needed as well as the right options for the diversity of traveller needs.”