An incident in which a wheelchair user was forced to drag himself along the floor of an Air Canada flight to disembark has led to the carrier being hauled into a meeting with government ministers and issuing an apology for failing customers who require special assistance.
“Respect and dignity”
Designed to ensure that “all Canadians are treated with respect and dignity when they travel,” according to Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez, the meeting, also attended by the country’s minister of diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities, is due to be followed up in December “to see how things are improving,” Rodriquez said in a post on X on Thursday. He branded Hodgins’ treatment “totally unacceptable.”
We will be following up on the outcomes of this meeting, including before the busy holiday season, to ensure that all Canadians are treated with respect and dignity when they travel.— Pablo Rodriguez (@pablorodriguez) November 9, 2023
Travel Tomorrow reported the experience of Rodney Hodgins in August. He had travelled from Vancouver to Las Vegas with his wife for a wedding anniversary trip that was ruined by pain after he felt he was left with no choice but to drag himself to the front of the plane because no helpers or adapted aisle chair were available. A complaint to the airline resulted in Hodgins being offered an apology and compensation and a statement in which the airline blamed the “serious lapse” on a third-party provider.
“The level of care that should have been provided at the destination airport was not,” Air Canada has said in a previous statement.
Accelerated three-year plan
Now, recognising that the issue is wider than a one-off failing, the carrier’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Rousseau, has issued another response, telling press: “Air Canada recognizes the challenges customers with disabilities encounter when they fly and accepts its responsibility to provide convenient and consistent service so that flying with us becomes easier. Sometimes we do not meet this commitment, for which we offer a sincere apology.”
Prior to the incident the carrier released a three-year plan to improve accessibility. That plan introduced measures to improve “boarding and seating, better customer communications, new processes to prevent delays or damage to mobility devices, more training and an investment in equipment such as lifts.” It is now due to be accelerated.
Steps to be taken immediately include lift assistance customers being boarded first and at the front of the cabin; cabin room and a function within the Air Canada app to track the whereabouts of mobility aids; and better, recurring staff training.
Deanna Hodgins, Rodney Hodgins’ wife, has responded to the announcements positively, saying that the couple “are happy to have assisted them in making a positive change toward decency, dignity and respect for individuals with mobility challenges.”