A BC man who uses a wheelchair says he was forced off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas after the airline didn’t provide him with the assistance he needed to get off the plane safely.
Rodney and Deanna Hodgins flew from Vancouver to Las Vegas in late August to celebrate their first wedding anniversary on a highly anticipated trip. Rodney, who is 49, has spastic cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
The Prince George, BC, couple travels every year and is used to the standard process of getting her off the plane. Usually, after the rest of the passengers have disembarked, an airline employee brings in an aisle chair, an extremely narrow version of a wheelchair with handles.
But after landing in Las Vegas, an Air Canada flight attendant told the Hodgins there was no assistance and no aisle seats, and said Rodney would have to make it to the front of the plane on his own.
The couple said the proposal was so absurd, they laughed it off thinking it was a joke.
“How am I supposed to get to the front of my plane when I can’t walk? If I didn’t need a wheelchair, I wouldn’t be sitting there,” said Rodney.
The Hodgins said they ultimately felt they had no choice, didn’t want to be rude and didn’t want to keep the plane. Rodney dropped to the floor and dragged himself from row 12 to the front of the plane by his hands in excruciating pain. Deanna crawled into the hallway behind him to help.
Air Canada crew, including the pilot, co-pilot, two flight attendants and eight cleaning staff, watched but did not intervene.
In a statement, Air Canada said, “We use the services of a third-party wheelchair assistance specialist in Las Vegas. Following our investigation into how this serious service failure occurred, we will be evaluating other Mobility Assistance service partners in Las Vegas.”
Deanna called the experience “dehumanizing.”
“You watch this man grab the back of the chair and then struggle and fight while I’m on the ground, crawling on the ground, moving his legs, and we’re trying to get him to the front of the plane. I fight her spasms, trying to lift her legs,” she said.
Once the pair reached the front of the plane, Rodney was able to approach his motorized wheelchair. They said they were in shock and asked to speak to the airport manager, who apologized profusely.
The Hodgins enjoyed their vacation, although the ordeal caused Rodney significant pain for several days.
On the return flight, an Air Canada representative met them and told them to go through the airline’s official complaint process.
They didn’t hear back from anyone at Air Canada until Rodney received a phone call from a customer service representative offering a $2,000 flight voucher for a future flight.
“I thought, that’s not what it’s about. I want you to change your policy to always have someone there when a person with a disability gets off that plane. I really don’t want this to happen to anyone else. man,” said Rodney.
Deanna said they hope Air Canada will issue a formal apology, saying: “I really believe. [Air Canada] I violated my husband’s human rights.”
The Hodgins said they decided to share their experience after seeing a high-profile story Stephanie Cadier, Chief Accessibility Officer, Canada.
On Oct. 20, Cadye tweeted that she was “furious” afterward Air Canada forgot his wheelchair, an experience he described as “frustrating and dehumanizing”. Since then, Kadie has been in touch with the Hodgins to advise him.
Deanna said their family is used to the legwork involved in travel, including researching the type of plane and whether it can accommodate a wheelchair.
The trip to Las Vegas had been arranged eight months earlier, and Rodney’s wheelchair had been specially modified to fit in the plane’s wheelchair cargo.
“I just thought… they don’t care about me,” Rodney said.
“Someone should reach out to us and say: we failed you.”
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