'Disappointing and frustrating': Air travel accessibility highlighted at Winnipeg passenger rights meeting
A national forum on air travel passenger rights in Canada heard from Winnipeggers on Monday, including a presentation from one woman who said she hasn't flown for months following serious damage to her wheelchair on a flight last summer.
Jesse Turner, who works as an accessibility advisor in Winnipeg, told the Canadian Transportation Agency that even before the incident 10 months ago, her wheelchair has been damaged regularly during loading and unloading for air travel.
"The fact that my chair gets damaged every time I fly tells me that the airlines don't care, that I'm too difficult, that I'm not worthy of the same level of respect and dignity as other passengers," she said.
Last summer, the damage was so bad it took nine weeks to repair. Turner told the agency she loves to travel, but she hasn't flown since because she doesn't want to risk further damage to her customized chair.
In an ideal world, people using wheelchairs would be able to remain in their chairs throughout their flight, she said. Until then, agency CEO Scott Streiner responded the body is looking at short-term solutions to make it easier for people with disabilities to fly.
"I'm glad to hear that accessibility is on the radar of the CTA and that they're making it a priority," Turner said.
"The difficulty with accessibility-related issues is there is no easy fix, and so I know a solution isn't going to come in the next year or a few years. That can be really disappointing and frustrating at times."
Turner was one of a small number of Winnipeggers who attended a public consultation with the Canadian Transportation Agency on Monday afternoon at the Delta Hotel.
The meeting was part of a three-month, cross-country effort designed to help set standards of treatment for airline passengers, following federal legislation passed last month amending the Canada Transportation Act requiring the agency to create "a new air passenger rights regime."
Participants came with questions about appropriate compensation following delays and overbookings, airline accountability and codesharing — when airlines market flights offered by other carriers to allow multiple connecting flights to be booked with a single airline.
Meetings to come in Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa
During the Winnipeg meeting, Streiner told Turner the agency recently held a separate public forum on the storage and transportation of mobility devices on aircraft, as part of a larger initiative to improve accessibility led by its Accessibility Advisory Committee.
"We know how important air travel is to Canadians. This is a big country," said Scott Streiner, CEO of the agency and chair of the public consultation process.
"People use planes to see family and friends, visit new places, do business, and air travel issues matter to Canadians."
The session, which ran from 1 to 4 p.m., was the fifth public meeting of the consultation period, which officially began on May 28. After the first meeting in Toronto earlier this month, the agency has held similar sessions in Vancouver, Calgary and Yellowknife.
By July 4, it will have stopped in Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa, and held a live online session on July 5 for people who couldn't make the public meetings.
Thus far, Streiner said several of the sessions have stressed the importance of communication.
"Half the battle is making sure that we've got a set of air passenger rights that are clear, that are fair, that are consistent," he said.
"And half the battle is making sure people know — that people know what their rights are and they know where they can turn for recourse."