Air Canada has apologized to a man who uses a wheelchair, saying he violated the Canadians with Disabilities Act when he was forced to crawl off a flight due to a lack of available assistance.
Rodney and Deanna Hodgins were traveling to Las Vegas from Vancouver on August 30 when an Air Canada crew member told the Hodgins they would have to get to the front of the plane without any assistance.
Rodney, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, often exits the plane with the help of an aisle chair, a narrow version of a wheelchair.
Rodney, 50, crawled down the aisle to the front of the plane by pulling on the seat legs, with Deanna crawling behind him, moving her legs.
The incident, which caused Rodney significant pain, attracted national and international attention.
Beenish Awan, a representative for Air Canada, sent the Hodgins a lengthy statement that read in part: “This was a very inconvenient and humiliating experience for both of us. I am truly sorry to hear about your and your husband’s experience and offer my sincere apologies for the experience.
“Based on the information we currently have available, we have to regretfully admit that Air Canada violated disability regulations. I reiterate my sincere apologies for disappointing you.”
The airline also offered the couple $2,000 in flight credits.
Deanna Hodgins said the admission of wrongdoing represented “a victory.”
“Admitting you’re wrong, that’s what we wanted. Now we just want to see change. Because you can say sorry, but you have to institute change to feel remorseful.”
The Las Vegas incident with the Hodgins was also discussed in Parliament, with Port Moody-Coquitlam NDP MP Bonita Zarillo calling what happened to Rodney “degrading and a violation of human rights.”
Canada’s Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez responded by saying he was “horrified” by how Air Canada treated Rodney.
“People with disabilities deserve equal rights and access when they travel and Canadians expect Air Canada to do better. Much, much better,” he said.
Rodriguez says his office is investigating the incident. Law enforcement officers from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) have also launched their own investigation.
“I didn’t expect it to be this big. I just thought, ‘Hey, maybe we can make a change,'” Rodney said.
One of several incidents
Rodney said he decided to share his story after reading a news story about Stephanie Cadieux, Canada’s chief accessibility officer, whose wheelchair was lost by Air Canada.
A comedian with cerebral palsy who lives in British Columbia also came forward and said he was dropped and injured by Air Canada crew members after landing in Vancouver.
The Hodgins said they have since received dozens of messages from people around the world, with many sharing experiences of lost and broken wheelchairs and injuries sustained on flights.
Data shared by the CTA reveals that in the 2022-2023 reporting period they received 197 complaints about in-flight accessibility, including 54 about mobility aids and 46 related to attendance issues. Since 2018, a total of 975 accessibility complaints have been filed with the agency.
In August, Air Canada was fined ,000 for failing to “provide a temporary replacement mobility aid that meets the mobility needs of a person with a disability who did not retain their mobility aid during their flight and which was not available for the person upon arrival.
“A lot of people with disabilities are very used to delays, they’re very used to these challenges in life,” Deanna said.
“Rodney has been able to have a voice to say, ‘Hey, we have the right to decent treatment, we have the right to safe transportation.'”
Rodney and Deanna had planned a 50th birthday trip to Cincinnati for Rodney, but canceled it due to concerns about the flight. However, Rodney said he will continue to fly and advocate for the right of others to do so safely.
“With all the reaction, with all the people around the world, it gave me a little bit of faith in humanity. It made me feel good that my story helped start that.”