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'I should have had 4. I had 0': B.C. woman's pre-booked airport wheelchairs never showed up


Since breaking her hip two years ago, 77-year-old Sharon Spruston has found it more difficult to get around.

"Now I use a cane. I cannot walk very far and have to use other methods to get certain places, like a wheelchair in the airport," she told CTV News.

Spruston pre-booked wheelchair assistance for her Flair Airlines flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg in late September.

When she checked in at YVR, she was told to wait.

Seventy-five minutes later, with no wheelchair in sight, a fed-up fellow passenger stepped in to help.

"A fellow beside me, he went and was gone for about five minutes and came back with a wheelchair," Spruston said. "He took me to my departure gate because Flair didn’t come through with their end of the bargain."

When she landed in Winnipeg, it was the same story: no wheelchair, despite her pre-booking.

Nor was there a wheelchair waiting for her at either airport on her return flight.

"I should have had four," she said. "I had zero."

Each time, she was forced to walk. She said she started to limp "very badly" as a result.

"The pain kept getting worse and worse," Spruston said. "There are times it gets so bad I cannot walk. I have to sit down and I just have to stay there. So how do I get to where I need to go in the airport? So, I'm almost to the point of not trusting the airlines to help me. And that's an awful feeling."


Spruston is hardly the only person struggling to get the accommodation she needs when flying. She told CTV News she was inspired to come forward and share her story after seeing other recent stories about B.C. passengers with disabilities being failed by their airlines.

Amputee Angela Taylor was abandoned at the gate by Flair earlier this month, forced to walk to YVR customs when a golf cart never came. 

In August, Prince George resident Rodney Hodgins had to drag himself down the aisle to get off his Air Canada flight in Las Vegas. 

And former Paralympian Sarah Morris-Probert was forced to pull herself backwards up metal airplane steps to board a B.C.-bound WestJet flight in Mexico back in April. 

Air passenger rights advocate Gábor Lukács says these examples show the need for stronger regulation of airlines when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities.

"These people are being treated inhumanely," Lukács said. "It's a no-brainer."

He said he'd like to see mandatory fines for non-compliance. Currently, the decision to impose a fine is up to the discretion of the Canadian Transportation Agency, he said.

"There is an obligation to assist passengers with boarding and disembarking," Lukács said. "The rules don’t prescribe what the assistance has to be, but there are overarching human rights considerations that relate to a passenger's dignity … If each time some things that impact a passenger’s dignity would have been punished by $100,000 in fines, (the airlines) would stop it."

Spruston said she'd also like to see stiffer penalties for airlines, adding that she's apprehensive about a planned flight to Edmonton in the new year, given her recent experiences.

"(Airlines) need to feel a bit of pain like they’re putting us through," she said.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Shannon Paterson Top Stories

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