‘Shocking’: Air Canada CEO slams accessibility services in House committee

Lawmakers impeached Air Canada’s CEO on Monday over “shocking” and “scandalous” failures to accommodate passengers with disabilities.

At a House of Commons committee hearing on services for Canadians with disabilities, CEO Michael Russo faced a barrage of questions about reports of mistreatment of passengers over the past year.

Vice President Tracey Gray cited several “shocking” incidents from 2023: “An elevator fell on an Air Canada passenger’s head and her ventilator cut off; and Air Canada left the wheelchair of its Chief Access Officer of Canada behind on a trans-Canada flight.” …A man fell and was injured when Air Canada employees did not use the elevator as required.”

In August, a man with spastic cerebral palsy had to drag himself off a plane due to a lack of assistance, a situation that Bloc Québécois MP Louise Chaput called a “scandal.”

Asked how Air Canada could improve its services, Rousseau replied: “We make mistakes.” But he pointed to the accelerated accessibility plan announced in November, along with new measures to improve the travel experience for hundreds of thousands of passengers with disabilities.

Last week, the carrier formed an advisory committee made up of customers with disabilities and instituted a program where a lanyard worn by passengers signals to staff that they may need assistance.

watched Wheelchair user, shot down by Air Canada crew, calls for change:

Wheelchair user shot down by Air Canada crew calls for change

Ryan Lachance and his caregiver, Emma Proulx, say Air Canada crews need better training to keep people with disabilities safe.

“The vast majority of customers who request accessibility assistance from Air Canada have a good experience. There are exceptions. We take responsibility for those exceptions,” Russo said.

Last fall, he apologized for the airline’s failings.

Bonita Zarrillo, the NDP’s disability inclusion critic, suggested the shortcomings run deeper than occasional mistakes, saying Air Canada’s culture and lack of federal enforcement are to blame for the mistreatment, even after regulatory reforms over the past five years.

“I don’t think it should take the horrific and gross stories of neglect and harm done to people with disabilities, whether to their physical being or to their dignity. The violation of their human rights should not be the tip of the spear,” she said. Interview before the hearing.

watched The couple describes their “dehumanization” experience with Air Canada:

A man forced to pull himself off an Air Canada flight has vowed to continue fighting for people with disabilities

Air Canada has apologized to a man in British Columbia after staff told him he would need to get to the front of the plane without any assistance. The airline also admitted it violated Canadian disability legislation. Rodney Hodgins hopes the situation will lead to systemic change.

Complaints came from various angles.

In December, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, along with some athletes with disabilities, called for improved transportation to and from competitions abroad.

The call followed repeated complaints from Paralympic athletes about damaged or broken equipment, as well as flight delays for competitors from Canada trying to reach the Parapan American Games in Chile in November.

Last month, Air Canada appealed a decision by the country’s transportation regulator that seeks to enhance accessibility for passengers with disabilities. If successful, the move would eliminate a requirement to accommodate passengers whose wheelchairs are too large to be transported to the plane’s cargo holds.

Under the three-year accessibility plan, Air Canada has pledged to roll out measures ranging from creating a customer accessibility manager to continuous boarding of passengers who require assistance with a lift first.

The Toronto-based company also aims to implement recurring annual accessibility training — such as how to use the Eagle elevator — for the airport’s 10,000 employees. It also plans to include mobility aids in an app that can track luggage.

Parliamentarians and accessibility advocates have pointed to loopholes in Canada’s Accessibility Act, which they say allow problems to persist in areas ranging from consultation to aid protocols.

Heather Walkus, who chairs the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, highlighted the lack of detail on how staff are trained. It also cited a rule that requires federally regulated businesses to involve people with disabilities in developing policies, programs and services — “a regulation you could drive a truck through.”

“You can send the administrator to Tim Hortons and talk to someone in a wheelchair, and you’ve consulted with the disability community. It’s a vetting process,” she told The Canadian Press in November. She said Air Canada has not contacted the group she leads about its new accessibility blueprint.

watched A hidden camera captures the moment the elevator falls on a passenger’s head:

Hidden camera captures ‘traumatic’ moment elevator falls on passenger’s head as Air Canada staff struggle as she transfers her to her wheelchair

Marketplace releases an exclusive preview of hidden camera investigations that documented a rarely seen first-hand account of the challenges faced by those who travel with disabilities.

Alicia Di Virgilio told CBC News Canada tonight She was “disappointed” by Russo’s testimony and said he left too much unanswered.

Last year on CBC the shop He accompanied Di Virgilio on a round-trip flight with Air Canada from Toronto to Charlottetown, where hidden cameras captured a slew of issues. Di Virgilio agreed to let Marketplace document her trip to raise awareness of the plight that people in wheelchairs go through when boarding flights.

Di Virgilio, who uses a power wheelchair, had her ventilator disconnected and an elevator fell on her head during that trip.

“I can’t accept ‘We’ll do better’ without seeing clear strategies and things in place and I haven’t seen that yet,” Di Virgilio said of Russo’s testimony.

Virgil said Canada tonight Flight attendant Travis Dhanraj believes that allowing passengers to bring their wheelchairs on board will help avoid a number of problems.

“Air travel remains the last form of travel where people with disabilities are required to get out of their wheelchairs,” she said.

“Until we can get on planes with our mobility devices, and sit in our mobility devices, we are at risk.”

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