Christopher Reynolds, Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 5, 2024 at 9:59 PM ET
Lawmakers questioned Air Canada’s CEO on Monday over “shocking” failures to accommodate passengers with disabilities.
At a House of Commons committee hearing on services for Canadians with disabilities, CEO Michael Rousseau faced a barrage of questions over reports of passenger abuse over the past year.
Conservative Party Vice-Chairman Tracy Gray listed several incidents that she considered shocking: “An Air Canada passenger fell on his head in a lift and his ventilator was removed. left the wheelchair of Canada’s own chief accessibility officer behind on a trans-Canada flight…A man was injured when Air Canada staff failed to use the elevator as requested.
In August, a man with spastic cerebral palsy was pulled from a plane without help, a situation that Bloc Quebecois MP Louise Chabot called a “scandal.”
When asked by NDP Disability Inclusion Critic Bonita Zarrillo, in connection with a recent story, if he had ever had to crawl down an aisle or get off a catering cart, he responded, “No. , of course not.”
“We make mistakes,” he said.
Rousseau pointed to the rapid accessibility plan announced in November and new measures to improve the travel experience for hundreds of thousands of passengers with disabilities.
Last week, the company formed an advisory committee of customers with disabilities and developed a program to alert staff to the straps worn by travelers who may need assistance.
“The vast majority of customers who request accessibility support from Air Canada have a positive experience. There are exceptions, and we are responsible for those exceptions,” Rousseau said.
Last fall, he apologized for the company’s failures on accessible air travel.
Zarrillo said Air Canada’s “corporate culture” and lack of enforcement by the federal government are to blame for the abuses, despite regulatory reforms over the past five years, and that the deficiencies are deeper than occasional missteps. suggested.
Some suggested that the law itself needs further review.
Conservative MP Rosemary Falk pressed Mr Rousseau on whether the airline was complying with all regulations, after Mr Rousseau initially said he could not answer that question at this time.
After saying yes, Falk said the issue of airline accessibility, despite claims of legal compliance, was a “serious flaw” in Canada’s Accessibility Act, passed in 2019. He said it was suggested.
But Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos argued the problem appeared to be more about day-to-day enforcement than regulation or executive priorities.
He cited a book by Geoff Preston, associate professor of disability studies at King’s University, who said that while Air Canada has a modern accessibility framework, “none of these policies have been implemented from the corporate/legal department all the way to the front line. It’s not being properly communicated downstream.” ”
Rousseau expressed a similar view, stating that “the main problem is contradiction.”
Complaints have been received from various quarters.
In December, the Canadian Paralympic Committee joined with some para-athletes in calling for improved transportation to and from overseas competitions.
The call comes in response to repeated complaints from Paralympic athletes about damaged and destroyed equipment, as well as flight delays for athletes from Canada attempting to reach the Parapan American Games in Chile in November. That’s what it meant.
Last month, Air Canada appealed a decision by the country’s transportation regulator aimed at improving accessibility for travelers with disabilities. If successful, the measure would overturn the requirement to fully accommodate passengers whose wheelchairs are too large to move into aircraft cargo holds.
Air Canada has committed to rolling out a range of measures under its three-year accessibility plan, from establishing a customer accessibility director to consistent boarding of passengers who request elevator assistance first.
The Montreal-based company also aims to provide annual regular accessibility training to more than 10,000 airport employees, including on how to use the Eagle Lift. The company also plans to incorporate mobility aids into its baggage tracking app.
“We have a high level of awareness, a strong work ethic and deep empathy among our employees and contractors,” Rousseau said.
He said flight delays, a persistent problem for Air Canada, which ranked last last year on-time among North America’s 10 largest airlines, have an even greater impact on people with disabilities. I admitted that there was. He said the company’s latest measures are aimed at “alleviating that concern.”
Accessibility advocates point to holes in Canada’s accessible laws, saying they allow problems to persist in areas ranging from consultation to support protocols.
Heather Woakes, president of the Canadian Council for Persons with Disabilities, highlighted the lack of detail on how staff will be trained. She also cited rules that require federally regulated businesses to involve people with disabilities in the development of policies, programs and services, or “rules you can drive a truck through.” .
“If you send administrators to Tim Hortons to consult with people in wheelchairs, they can consult with the disability community. That’s a check-off,” she told The Canadian Press in November. She said the group she leads has not heard from Air Canada about the new accessibility blueprint.