Advocates call for more disability training for airline staff after Air Canada incidents

Accessibility advocates are calling on airlines to rethink how they train staff when it comes to serving passengers with disabilities. Angela Bower has the story.

Accessibility advocates are calling on airlines to rethink how they train staff when it comes to serving passengers with disabilities.

Heather McCain with Live Educate Transform Society says all airlines should provide better training for all staff in order to better serve passengers with disabilities.

“This is impacting us not only in our daily life- but also who we are as people when we’re handled like baggage,” they said.

“How are you going to address ableism and create accessibility when you don’t know what the broad spectrum of disability encompasses, and how disability is affected by ableism, stigma, and prejudice.”

A wheelchair with an Air Canada tag on it.
Advocates are calling for airlines to better train their employees to serve passengers with disabilities. (Angela Bower, CityNews Image)

This comes after a series of incidents on Air Canada flights with passengers who use wheelchairs.

On Sunday, CityNews brought you the story of Ryan Lachance, who says he was dropped twice by Air Canada staff in May when they didn’t use the proper safety equipment to transfer him out of his seat and into a wheelchair.

“I’m really gun shy to use Air Canada because I’ve been dropped so many times,” he said. “What the airline is doing is relying on their ramp staff and the guys that move luggage around because I’m not human cargo, I’m a person.”

Air Canada acknowledged to CityNews that “This customer did not receive the level of service we normally provide. We are in communication with him to resolve this matter.”

On Friday, federal Minister of Transportation Pablo Rodriguez posted on X saying he had summoned Air Canada to meet with him and Kamal Khera, the Minister of Diversity, Inclusion, and Persons with Disabilities.

“They must present a plan to address this. Canadians expect Air Canada to do better,” he said.

Rick Hansen Foundation spokesperson Brad McCannell says the airline should work with a third-party organization that has experience with people who have disabilities instead.

“Bringing Air Canada to the Minister’s office to come up with a plan is like asking alligators to come up with a plan to drain a swamp,” he said. “They have no knowledge of it — they have proven it over and over again. They keep trying to resolve the problem after the fact by giving people compensation, but that’s not the answer … the problem is easily resolved with proper training, understanding consequences, and letting us bring our wheelchair onto the plane.”

McCain says they would also like airlines to rethink the plane’s design to better accommodate people who use wheelchairs.

“Having seats that are removable, having aisles that are wide enough for someone to take their wheelchair onto the plane,” they said

“In my community, you have to go to the airport knowing it’s going to happen! We’re not baggage we’re not cargo!” McCannell added.

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