More passengers blame WestJet for damaging their wheelchairs
Ross McLaughlin and Sandra Hermiston, CTV Vancouver
Published Thursday, October 5, 2017 6:00AM PDT
Last Updated Friday, October 6, 2017 12:22PM PDT
The Canadian Transportation Agency has promised to make the friendly skies more accessible to those with disabilities, but if you ask some people who travel in wheelchairs, they're not doing a very good job.
After a CTV News report first exposed a Vancouver man’s struggle to get WestJet to fix his damaged wheelchair, more passengers have come forward to complain about the way their mobility devices were handled while travelling with the airline.
Teresa and Richard Eschelmuller watched in horror from the window of their airplane in August as baggage handlers incorrectly maneuvered their two wheelchairs onto their plane.
“You’re kind of helpless. We didn’t know what to do, it was kind of almost ridiculous,” explained Teresa.
“I’m thinking, they’re screwing with my chair. They’re going to [expletive] it up,” said Richard.
When their flight landed and they were given back their mobility devices, they quickly realized they were right to have been concerned.
The wheel on Richard’s wheelchair was broken, forcing him to use a replacement chair, and his wife’s $18,000 wheelchair was heavily damaged as well.
Chris Friesen of Davies Home Healthcare originally assessed the damage.
“[The two wheelchairs] are heavily damaged. They’re not safe at all,” he explained.
WestJet passenger Crystal Balser flew in July and also had issues travelling with her wheelchair.
“They busted the motor on the left side and then they busted the control box," she said. “It's not just baggage. These are my legs."
And Richard Kipping spent nearly a year battling WestJet to properly fix his wheelchair which was broken on a flight to Las Vegas last August.
“It’s still broken,” Richard said.
All of the passengers filed damage claims with WestJet. The airline took responsibility to fix the chairs after damage claims were filed, but the repairs take time.
The airline apologized for what happened in a statement to CTV News. The airline said ground handlers are trained on how to handle mobility aids, but despite their best efforts, damage can occur from time to time.
But all the passengers we talked to say the problems go beyond WestJet, saying all of the airlines need to do a better job.
“We went to great lengths to tell them how to handle the wheelchair when we got there and they did none of what we asked them to,” said Crystal.
"They weren't even listening [to us], and that was the WestJet agent," said Teresa.
Canadian Transportation Agency says it received four complaints of damaged wheelchairs this year. Only one of the complaints was against WestJet, which means three of the four people who contacted CTV News haven’t filed complaints to the CTA yet.
The CTA said it’s the airlines' responsibility to learn the proper methods of carrying and stowing mobility aids in the baggage compartment, including the disassembling, packaging, unpackaging and assembling of mobility aids.
But clearly there are still issues and the agency recently wrapped up hearings in September to find ways to better serve people with disabilities.
CTA CEO Scott Streiner has vowed to make Canada's transportation system the most accessible in the world and the agency is considering putting voluntary practices into regulation. The practices incude:
- creating a comprehensive set of accessible transportation regulations that apply across the national transportation system, in place of the current patchwork of regulations and voluntary codes;
- emphasizing staff training and education on how to serve and interact with persons with disabilities; and,
- having service providers develop multi-year accessibility plans that encourage proactive rather than reactive strategies to advance accessibility.
Passengers who encounter problems should first contact the airline. If passengers are not satisfied with the airline's response, they can submit a complaint with the CTA by clicking here.
Update: Following our airing of this story the CTA sent us this statement:
"As part of our Regulatory Modernization Initiative, in June of last year, we launched our accessible transportation. The consultations on accessible transportation regulations have involved some 30 face-to-face meetings and over 200 written submissions," the Canadian Transportation Agency said.
"As you can see by our What We Heard Summary Report, the carriage of wheelchairs is an issue that has been raised. Comments and proposals are being taken into consideration in the development of the regulation. Our target is to have the updated regulation brought into force in 2018."