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Air Canada Under Fire as Disabled Passenger Forced to Drag Himself off Aircraft

Air Canada Under Fire as Disabled Passenger Forced to Drag Himself off Aircraft


Air Canada has announced its plan to make significant changes to its operations following several high-profile incidents involving disabled passengers. Four people with disabilities revealed their poor experiences flying with Air Canada this year. These incidents involved the airline not accommodating disabled passengers who required extra assistance. In one case, the passenger was forced to drag himself to the front of the aircraft before being able to use a wheelchair.


An Incident in Vancouver




The first incident involved a man with a wheelchair on an Air Canada flight that landed at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in May. Ryan Lachance, who uses a motorized wheelchair due to having quad spastic cerebral palsy, was returning to Vancouver from Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ). Lachance got injured while attempting to exit the flight in Vancouver.


Lachance travels with a care assistant and an eagle lift to move him onto aircraft seats. However, Air Canada's ground crew attempted to transfer him from the seat onto an aisle chair instead of using the eagle lift. Despite repeated warnings from Lachance's assistant about requiring an eagle lift, the crew continued forcing him into the aisle chair, a narrower version of a wheelchair. Lachance later fell off the aisle chair because the crew improperly handled his shoulders and legs.


Ryan Lachance. Photo: Braceworks Custom Orthotics


The ordeal, which took more than an hour and a half, ended up with Lachance injured and bedridden for three days. He filed a formal complaint and was offered CA$500 ($362.40) in flight credits by Air Canada. Lachance revealed his perspective on the incident to Canadian media on November 2, including details about witnessing a similar incident at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) on an unspecified date. He requested that Air Canada provide better training to its staff on accommodating passengers with disabilities.




Another Incident in Las Vegas


The second incident involved a man being forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in August. Rodney Hodgins flew from Vancouver to Las Vegas to celebrate his first wedding anniversary with his wife. Hodgins uses a motorized wheelchair due to having spastic cerebral palsy. 


Rodney Hodgins with his wife. Photo: CNN


Hodgins and his wife travel frequently, with each flight's crew helping him exit the aircraft. Unlike the incident involving Lachance, Hodgins uses an aisle chair to leave once the other passengers disembark. However, an Air Canada flight attendant informed him there would be no aisle seat or assistance on this flight. Rodney was required to move to the front of the aircraft independently.




After explaining his situation to the flight attendant to no avail, Hodgins forced himself to move off the plane. This process involved Hodgins moving himself onto the floor and then dragging himself from row 12 to the front of the aircraft. His wife tried helping him as he was visibly in major pain. Despite the pilots, flight attendants, and cleaning staff seeing Hodgins in pain, no one offered help.


Hodgins and his wife eventually reached the front of the aircraft. He received access to a motorized wheelchair after disembarking from the plane. Although the couple enjoyed their vacation in Las Vegas, Hodgins suffered from major pain for several days. He filed complaints with various Air Canada representatives, including on their flight back to Vancouver, before receiving a CA$2,000 ($1,449) flight voucher. The Canadian Transportation Agency has launched an investigation into this incident.


Photo: AeroXplorer | Thomas Westlake


How Did Air Canada Respond?


These two incidents are not the only ones involving the mistreatment of disabled passengers on Air Canada flights. A third incident involved Air Canada forgetting the wheelchair of its chief accessibility officer on her flight from Toronto to Vancouver in October. On November 9, Air Canada finally announced measures to improve the passenger experience for disabled passengers after pressure from various stakeholders, including the passengers who previously witnessed poor treatment. 




Craig Landry, Air Canada's Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, said:


"In June, we released our three-year accessibility plan. The measures we are announcing today accelerate key components in that plan. This includes improving 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. We also intend to implement further measures as we strive to make Air Canada accessible for people managing disabilities."


Photo: AeroXplorer | Benedict Kwan


Air Canada's CEO, Michael Rousseau, also released a statement apologizing to passengers for their poor experiences on the airline's flights. He acknowledged feedback from disabled customers and announced a commitment to do better.


The airline will enact these measures to accommodate disabled passengers better:


  • Customers who request lift assistance will board first and receive seats at the front of their cabin class
  • Storing mobility aids in the aircraft cabin or cabin hold, with a tracking process to ensure that mobility aids make it onto the plane
  • Training for approximately 10,000 airport employees on effectively serving disabled customers
  • Creating a Director of Customer Accessibility position to implement Air Canada's three-year accessibility plan




Canada views accommodations for disabled people as an essential component of diversity and inclusion. The Canadian government has a Minister of Diversity, Inclusion, and Persons with Disabilities who focuses on these issues. Air Canada's new measures align with the government's goal to eliminate barriers for disabled Canadians by 2040. These measures are essential as Canada witnesses growing travel demand from people with disabilities. 

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Comments (10)

Jeff My 90 year old wheelchair-bound mother-in-law flew from Montreal-Trudeau to France. We arrived 3 hours early, and Air Canada offered to escort her through security so she could wait in the VIP Lounge. My wife and I happily waved goodbye and left the airport. Turns out she wasn't taken to the lounge but rather left alone at the gate for 2 hours. On top of that, they bumped her from 1st class (we paid extra so she'd be comfortable on the overnight flight) down to Economy class. Not only was she miserable throughout the experience, she had leg problems for more than a week after due to being squeezed in to Economy for over 6 hours. When I complained to Air Canada, they refunded the difference in airfare between 1st class and Economy. That's it.
17d ago • Reply
MOUSTAFA ABDEL-WAHAB Try, as a handicapped person, to get a wheelchair at Frankfurt / Germany airport, the answer we got from Personnel was: "we do not have enough wheelchairs at Frankfurt, you have to wait" ! it is the third time we had the same problem at Frankfurt !
18d ago • Reply
Patrick This is a worldwide problem. My wife required a wheelchair when travelling and very few airports offer an excellent service in that matter. I had to find a wheelchair myself and pushed it myself through miles of airport concourses. I could write a book about these experiences and rate the best and worst airports. I would rate the worst being Toronto Pearson in Canada and the best being Bangkok Suvarnabhumi.
18d ago • Reply
Craig N The paltry credits offered by the airline for their violation of law, pain, discomfort, safety and humiliation are an affront to us all. That is a statement saying we are worth nothing more than a few shekels. How would they feel if one of their family members was forced to crawl, get dumped on the floor. and/or sustained injury because untrained individuals ignored the safety briefing by the passenger? The comment that they are implementing changes within 3 years is absurd on its' face. This sounds like the makings of a well-deserved Title II complaint under the ADA and associated law.
18d ago • Reply
Bruce This is a sad commentary on how inhumane the world has become. People with disabilities need help. Any airline that would refuse to help a disabled person get to the front of the plane should get out of the business of flying passengers. Air Canada is an embarrassment to the airline industry!
18d ago • Reply
PB The Americans With Disabilities Act requires that disabled people be accommodated. If you disagree with the law, you should notify your congressman and have the law changed. The federal government through the FAA requires that any airline flying in US airspace provides accommodation for disabled passengers. The ones quoted in this article are in Canada, but their rules are similar. As for these disabled people preventing others from a vacuolation, the airlines usually place them in a window seat for exactly that reason, so that if there is an evacuation, others can evacuate quickly and before the disabled person. However, despite my declaring that I am disabled airlines have still placed me in aisle seats.
18d ago • Reply
Maxwell Folks with such disabilities should not be traveling by air. How many people will die if there is an emergency and the disabled person is blocking the exit?
19d ago • Reply
Tiredofit People with disabilities should not be allowed to travel? Are you kidding?
PB I have had similar issues returning from Southeast Asia on a variety of airline aircraft. I am not profoundly disabled, but I am severely arthritic which results in. intermittent inability to walk. Several times after a long journey, I have found myself unable to walk, and while I have notified flight attendants of my condition, there has been little response. Once the plane door is open, the responsibility becomes that of the ground staff, and that’s where the dislocation commences. I have been able to get to the front of the aircraft after other passengers have departed by putting each elbow On a seat back and leveraging my way to the exit door. I always request a wheelchair, but I still have to get out to the jetway. The flight attendants refuse to offer a hand to steady myself, and I have never been offered a wheelchair in the aisle. My condition and disability has been obvious, but I have still been refused assistance because the flight attendants do not want to be touched, and I don’t blame them. Their job is not to provide stabilization for a disabled passenger who cannot walk. But I’ve never been offered assistance. I have never thought of complaining.
18d ago • Reply
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24d ago • Reply

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