Air Canada faces backlash over treatment of disabled Canadians

Feb 8, 2024 | Canadian News, News

Air Canada, a Toronto-based international airline, has come under fire for its mistreatment of people with disabilities.

Michael Rousseau, the chief executive of Air Canada, apologized for the airline’s shortcomings when he faced the members of the House of Commons at a committee hearing about services for Canadians with disabilities on Feb. 5.

“We understand the impact in terms of how difficult the disruption is for our customers with disabilities. The best remedy for this is to provide our people who all want to do a good job serving customers, with more and better-tailored training and tools,” Rousseau said.

Committee Vice-Chair and Conservative Tracy Gray said she was shocked to hear about how people with disabilities were treated by the airline staff. Gray said it was completely unacceptable.

Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos agreed.

“None of these policies are being adequately down streamed from corporate/legal to the front line,” he said.

The hearing was scheduled after multiple complaints were made about the ill-treatment of passengers with special needs by the staff.

Alessia Di Virgilio, a woman from Toronto, had a lift fall on her head and her ventilator disconnected as she was being transferred between her wheelchair and the airplane. The incident was caught on a hidden camera for an investigation conducted by CBC Marketplace.

The investigation later became a documentary that illustrated all the challenges faced by people with disabilities.

According to the Canadian Transportation Agency, mobility aids are required to be stowed in the cargo hold, making the transfer of people using wheelchairs onto the plane significantly more difficult.

Air Canada announced the acceleration of the three-year Air Canada Accessibility Plan in November 2023, a series of measures to improve the travel experience for customers with disabilities, a press release by Air Canada said.

The plan will initially have representatives from four Canadian accessibility groups — Barrier Free Canada, Brain Injury Canada, Kéroul, and Spinal Cord Injury Canada — to provide input and guide the airline to manage customers with disabilities, they said.

Air Canada has vowed to enhance the training of their employees to improve interactions with customers with disabilities. They have created a new position of director of customer accessibility to implement responsive management of disability issues, according to the press release.

Air Canada has specified these new measures, such as priority boarding and seating, storage for mobility aids in the aircraft cabin, and enhanced employee training.

Twenty-seven per cent of Canadians over the age of 15, or eight million people have at least one disability, according to a Statistics Canada study released in December 2023. This shows an increase of 4.7 per cent from the year 2017.