WARNING: This story contains an image of an injury that some may find distressing.
In April, Phil and Lisa Gilliard left their home in Prince George, BC, for Vancouver, where Phil was receiving an award from the ALS Society of British Columbia.
Phil, 74, has primary lateral sclerosis, a rare disease that affects fewer than 50 people in British Columbia. As a result, he does not speak and uses a wheelchair to get around.
The Gilliards enjoyed the ceremony and the support of the ALS community. But the trip took a turn on the flight home.
Lisa said the WestJet crew didn’t know how to operate the eagle lift Phil needed to get into his seat and nearly dropped him when they were trying to move him. He was eventually taken off the plane and then reboarded using different equipment.
Back home in Prince George, while Lisa was helping Phil change clothes, she noticed a bloody gash on his elbow surrounded by purple bruises. Since Phil doesn’t speak, she couldn’t communicate that he had been injured.
“I took off his coat, his long-sleeved shirt and it was all destroyed. I can’t believe they took several layers of skin off him,” Lisa said.
“I thought, come on, no one is trained? I know how to operate a portable elevator. I don’t understand why, for an international airport, they don’t have people trained for that.”
The Gilliards filed a complaint with WestJet and wrote to the CEO of Vancouver International Airport, but received no response. WestJet said that because the couple did not save their boarding confirmation number, they were unable to provide further information about the case.
Her story is one of dozens received by Breaking: from wheelchair users who say they have been mistreated by airlines, some dating back to the late 1980s. Some passengers shared stories of damaged or forgotten mobility devices. during transit. Others, like Phil, described injuries sustained during transfers.
One man said he looked out the plane window and saw his $21,000 mobility aid flipped over on the tarmac.
Another said that upon landing in Barbados on an Air Canada flight, other passengers had to put his wife on a bus on the tarmac and then had to crawl off the bus once they reached the terminal. In response, Air Canada offered the couple 100,000 Aeroplan points.
A common refrain Breaking: heard in those experiences: the need for better training and a change in attitude toward people with disabilities and the mobility equipment they need.
Last week, Air Canada was summoned to Ottawa by the Minister of Transportation after a man with spastic cerebral palsy was forced off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas. The incident attracted international attention and triggered an investigation by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
Gábor Lukács, president of Air Passenger Rights, said he believes major policy reforms will be needed to change the way airlines manage mobility devices and passenger transfers, and that there is currently no clear regulatory framework that holds airlines accountable. airlines.
“There is no clear language to say that if an airline drops a mobility aid, this is the fine they will face,” he said.
“We are talking about six-figure figures that would be necessary to change attitudes.”
Lack of data
Canadian airlines are subject to the Accessible Transportation for People with Disabilities regulations, according to which state airlines must prioritize the transportation of mobility aids in cases where part of the luggage must be left behind.
But Lukács said mobility aids should be seen as an extension of a person’s body, not just another piece of luggage. He said the damage to a mobility aid is more comparable to a personal injury like the one Phil faced.
“For passengers with disabilities, mobility aids are an extension of their bodies,” he said.
“What are the regulations missing if you have an individual scooter with pads custom made for your body and no one else? If your scooter doesn’t arrive and you get something temporary, you can end up with pressure sores, something an able-bodied person wouldn’t. I would [face]”.
Lukács said one problem impeding change is the lack of available data on how many incidents occur in a year. Many passengers file complaints with airports rather than airlines. Some, like the Gilliards, never hear back.
Data shared by the CTA reveals that in the 2022-23 reporting period, the authority 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 $50,000 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.”
In cases previously reported by Breaking:, passengers who complained were offered flight vouchers worth between $500 and $2,000.
Lisa said she thought she would at least receive an apology from the airline after sharing photos of Phil’s injuries, which took weeks to heal.
“I feel like they just don’t care. I think they just wanted us to leave, which we did,” she said.
“They need to do better, that’s what I want to see.”