Air Canada says it violated disability act after passenger in wheelchair forced to drag himself off flight

Rodney and Deanna Hodgins are pictured at their home in Prince George, B.C. The Canadian Transportation Agency has launched an investigation into their experience on an Air Canada flight to Las Vegas.  (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
Rodney and Deanna Hodgins are pictured at their home in Prince George, B.C. The Canadian Transportation Agency has launched an investigation into their experience on an Air Canada flight to Las Vegas. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

Air Canada has issued an apology to a man who uses a wheelchair, saying it violated the Canadians with Disabilities Act when he was forced to drag himself off a flight because of a lack of available assistance.

Rodney and Deanna Hodgins were travelling to Las Vegas from Vancouver on August 30 when an Air Canada crew member told the Hodgins he would need to get to the front of the plane without any assistance.

Rodney, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, usually exits the plane with the help of an aisle chair, a narrow version of a wheelchair.

Rodney, 50, dragged himself through the aisle to the front of the plane by pulling on seat legs, with Deanna crawling behind him, moving his legs.

The incident, which caused Rodney significant pain, garnered national and international attention.

Beenish Awan, a representative with Air Canada, sent the Hodgins a lengthy statement, which read in part, "it was a very inconvenient and humiliating experience for both of you. I am genuinely 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 regrettably admit that Air Canada was in violation of the disability regulations. I reiterate my genuine apologies for disappointing you."

The airline also offered the couple $2,000 in flight credits.

rodney hodgins
rodney hodgins

Rodney Hodgins said he still hopes Air Canada will reach out to him for a conversation about how to improve flying for people with disabilities, including needed changes to aisle chairs.  (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Deanna Hodgins said the admission of wrongdoing represented "a victory."

"To admit 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 be sorry."

The Las Vegas incident with the Hodgins was also discussed in Parliament, with NDP MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam, Bonita Zarillo, calling what happened to Rodney "degrading and a violation of human rights."

Canada's Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez responded, saying he was "horrified" by how Rodney was treated by Air Canada.

"Persons with disabilities deserve equal rights and access when travelling and Canadians expect Air Canada to do better. Much, much better," he said.

Rodruigez says his office is investigating the incident. Enforcement officers with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) have also launched their own investigation.

"I didn't expect it to get this big. I just thought, 'Hey man, maybe we can make a change,'" said Rodney.

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 B.C.-based comedian with cerebral palsy has also come forward, saying he was dropped and injured by Air Canada crew members after landing in Vancouver.

The Hodgins said they've since received dozens of messages from people worldwide, 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 accessibility on flights, including 54 about mobility aid, and 46 related to assistance issues. A total of 975 complaints about accessibility have been filed with the agency since 2018.

In August, Air Canada was fined $50,000 for failing "to provide a temporary replacement mobility aid that met the mobility needs of a person with a disability who did not retain their mobility aid during their flight and which was not made available to the person at their arrival."

"A lot of people with disabilities, they're very used to delays, they're very used to these challenges in life," said Deanna.

"Rodney has been able to have a voice to say, 'Hey, we have a right to dignified treatment, we have a right to safe transport.'"

The Hodgins had planned a 50th birthday trip to Cincinatti for Rodney, but cancelled after concerns about the flight. However Rodney said he'll continue flying and advocating for the right of others to do so safely.

"With all the reaction, with all the people all around the world, it gave me a little bit of faith in humanity. It made me feel good that my story helped start that."