Air Canada says it is apologizing and making changes to improve how it treats disabled people after several high-profile incidents, including one in which a passenger had to drag himself off a plane, prompted a meeting with federal ministers this week in Ottawa.
The airline announced Thursday that it is accelerating a plan to update the boarding process and change the way it handles mobility devices such as wheelchairs to ensure customers with disabilities can safely board and exit the plane, as well as update training procedures for their staff.
Rodney and Deanna Hodgins of Prince George, B.C., were flying from Vancouver to Las Vegas on August 30 when an Air Canada staff member informed them that Rodney would need to move to the front of the plane without help.
Rodney has Cerebral Palsy. Typically, he uses an aisle chair to exit the plane. An aisle chair is a narrow wheelchair that is designed to help disabled people get on and off of planes. Sadly, he was forced to drag himself to the front of the plane. His wife Deanna crawled behind him while moving his legs.
Beenish Awan, who is a representative with Air Canada sent the couple a lengthy letter acknowledging the airline’s wrongdoing. Deanna calls that “a victory”. However, the only compensation the couple was offered was $2,000 CAD in airline credit.
In October, Stephanie Cadieux, Canada’s chief accessibility officer, had her wheelchair misplaced by staff during a flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Fortunately, the airline returned her wheelchair the following day.
According to CTA data, they received 197 complaints concerning accessibility on flights during the 2022-2023 reporting year, including 54 about mobility aids and 46 about assistance concerns. Since 2018, 975 complaints about accessibility have been registered with the agency.
Disabled people in the United States face similar challenges when flying. At least 15,425 wheelchairs or scooters have been lost or damaged by the country’s main airlines since the end of 2018. In 2019, the first full year of reporting, 10,548 wheelchairs or scooters were lost, damaged, delayed, or stolen. That works out to roughly 29 each day.
It decreased to 3,464, or 9.5 per day, by 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, passengers reported 712 mishandled devices or nearly eight per day. Still, it should not be so commonplace to have equipment mishandled on a flight.
In some cases, disabled people have died because of negligence experienced during flights Engracia Figueroa died after developing a pressure sore, which subsequently became infected. She developed the sore after using a wheelchair that was loaned to her after her wheelchair was damaged by United Airlines.
Everyone should be able to take a flight safely. Air travel should be accessible for people with various disabilities. Hopefully, Air Canada will take steps to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
Brooks, Laken. “Disability Advocate Engracia Figueroa Died after an Airline Damaged Her Wheelchair.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Nov. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lakenbrooks/2021/11/08/disability-advocate-engracia-figueroa-died-after-an-airline-damaged-her-wheelchair/?sh=722eb0f310d7.
Ghoussoub, Michelle. “Air Canada Says It Violated Disability Regulations When Passenger in Wheelchair Made to Drag Himself off Plane”. CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 3 Nov. 2023,
Schmunk, Rhianna, and Michelle Ghoussoub. “Air Canada CEO Apologizes after Passengers with Disabilities Share ‘dehumanizing’ Experiences .” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 10 Nov. 2023, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/air-canada-passengers-with-disabilities-violations-1.7023690.
Sampson, Hannah. “Airlines Have Lost or Damaged More than 15,000 Wheelchairs since Late 2018.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 June 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/06/07/wheelchair-scooter-damage-airplane-flights/.
Zimonjic, Peter. “Canada’s Chief Accessibility Officer ‘furious’ after Air Canada Forgets Her Wheelchair .” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 23 Oct. 2023, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/air-canada-lost-wheelchair-cadieux-1.7005429.