Advocate ‘asking for access’ as Air Canada CEO details accessibility plan to HOC

Rodney Hodgins says nothing has changed since he was forced to drag himself off of an Air Canada flight last year because he didn’t receive the special assistance he asked for.

The Prince George resident’s story is one of several to come out in recent months, accounting experiences of people with accessibility needs being mistreated by the country’s largest airline.

On Tuesday, Michael Rousseau, CEO of Air Canada, told a House of Commons transport committee the overwhelming majority of the 1.3 million passengers who asked for special assistance last year reported having positive experience.

However, Rodney’s wife, Deanna Hodgins, says she couldn’t keep a straight face when she heard Rousseau’s comments.

“I laughed,” she said. “Why are we talking about the things that went right when the whole conversation should be about what is going wrong?”

The comments from Rousseau landed on the Hodgins’ ears as deflection and defense — something they’ve already had their fair share of.

Rodney, who uses a motorized wheelchair for mobility due to spastic cerebral palsy, says the three year plan Air Canada has pledged to carry out to improve its accessibility is too little, too late.

“I pulled myself off the plane and nothing happened since,” Rodney said.

Since Rodney’s experience in October, he and his wife say all they’ve received from the airline is $2,000 in flight credits and an apology letter.

“They offered $2,000 for my husband’s dignity being stolen from him in front of 12 people,” Deanna said. “Do you know you get more than that for your luggage?”

Deanna says she’s not convinced the numbers presented by Rousseau mean anything, since many of the people she’s spoken with have told her they didn’t know how to report the bad experiences they had.

The Hodgins say they didn’t know where to turn when they had their bad experience, and only got put in touch with authorities because of a FaceBook post they made.

“Part of the problem is that nobody knows how to report, so, of course, the numbers are going to be skewed,” Deanna said.

When they did get connected with the airline, Deanna says Air Canada asked the couple to keep the issue “internal.” Soon after, she adds, Air Canada stopped returning their calls.

“(Rousseau) said 1.3 million people had no problems, but one person shouldn’t even have a problem,” Rodney said. “As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t need to happen.”

Rodney says if the airline admitted to its mistakes and began making visible changes, he would happily fly with them again.

But for now, he says it sounds like nothing is going to be different any time soon.

The couple says the measures established in Air Canada’s three year plan, including having a customer accessibility director and requiring annual training for front-line staff, simply aren’t enough.

“My husband is not asking for special treatment, he’s asking for access,” Deanna said.

“Our end goal is to make it to Ottawa and fight for legislative change.”

The couple are calling for what they call “Rodney’s Bill,” to “ensure people with mobility aids and disabilities are treated fairly and equally and there are severe consequences if not.”

For now, Deanna says they’ve been in touch with legal counsel, and are trying to navigate how to initiatie change and reach the legislature in Ottawa.

“Just treat people with dignity and respect,” Deanna said.

With files from the Canadian Press and Raynaldo Suarez.

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