Air Canada summoned to Ottawa after multiple incidents involving passengers with wheelchairs

Canada's Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez said Air Canada representatives must present a plan to improve the experiences of people with disabilities on the airline. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canada's Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez said Air Canada representatives must present a plan to improve the experiences of people with disabilities on the airline. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Canada's minister of transport has summoned representatives from Air Canada to Ottawa, following three high-profile events involving passengers with disabilities.

Representatives from the airline will meet with the minister and Kamal Khera, diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities minister, next week, a statement from Pablo Rodriguez said, noting he was "horrified' to learn of yet another incident on Thursday.

"All Canadians must be treated with dignity and respect. Full stop," he said in the statement. "They must present a plan to address this. Canadians expect Air Canada to do better."

The call from Rodriguez comes a day after the airline said it violated Canadian disability regulations in the case of 50-year-old Rodney Hodgins.

Hodgins, who has cerebral palsy, was forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas when he was told no wheelchair assistance was available. The incident garnered international attention and triggered an investigation by the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The story also prompted Ryan Lachance, a B.C.-based comedian with spastic quad cerebral palsy, to come forward with his experience on the airline.

In early May, Lachance was dropped and injured by Air Canada staff while attempting to disembark a flight in Vancouver, after crew declined to use the eagle lift he depends on to leave his seat.

Video of the incident captured by his care assistant shows Lachance on the ground and crashing into airline seats as crew members try to lift him.

The move also comes after Stephanie Cadieux, Canada's chief accessibility officer, said her wheelchair was lost by Air Canada on a recent flight.

Ryan Lachance, who lives with quad-spastic cerebral palsy, is pictured in his apartment in White Rock, British Columbia on Wednesday, November 1, 2023.
Ryan Lachance, who lives with quad-spastic cerebral palsy, is pictured in his apartment in White Rock, British Columbia on Wednesday, November 1, 2023.

Ryan Lachance, who lives with quad-spastic cerebral palsy, is pictured in his apartment in White Rock, British Columbia on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a statement, Air Canada said was conducting internal reviews in all three cases.

"In each case, we reached out to these customers to apologize, listen to their concerns, and offer compensation. More important to each of them though was that we commit to improve our services so that others do not have similar experiences," the statement read in part.

The statement said in June the airline finalized a three-year plan to increase accessibility for both customers and employees, and said it "fully supports the federal government's Accessible Canada Act and its aim to realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040."

Air Canada said it devotes "considerable resources" to make travel accessible, and employs 180 employees in Toronto whose primary role is to assist with mobility.

"In light of this, we are deeply disappointed and sincerely regret when there are mobility service lapses that result in inconvenience and travel disruption," the statement read.

WATCH | Hodgins plans to keep fighting for passenger rights:

In a written apology to the Hodgins, Air Canada acknowledged the experience was "very inconvenient and humiliating. "The airline offered Rodney and Deanna Hodgins a $1,000 flight voucher each. Lachance was offered a voucher worth $500.

Rodney Hodgins said he hopes to meet with Air Canada personally to offer his suggestions to improve accessibility.

"I want you to stick whatever you were going to give me back into your company to develop a program to make people with disabilities have an easier time travelling with your airline," he said.

Lachance said he believes staffers need more training on the equipment available to them, including eagle lifts and aisle chairs.

"I know this happens to people all the time," he said.