Winnipeg wheelchair user accuses Sunwing of discrimination after handi-van charge in Cuba

Darek Michno booked his first trip ever this winter hoping to catch some rays in sunny Cuba, but the Winnipeg wheelchair-user says he was caught off guard when he arrived and was forced to shell out for accessible transportation from the airport.

Company plans to refund Darek Michno for accessible transport fees he was forced to pay when he landed in Cuba

Darek Michno said he was caught off guard on a recent Sunwing trip to Cuba after being told he had to pay $70 US for a handi-van to take him from the airport to the hotel. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Darek Michno booked his first ever all-inclusive trip this winter hoping to catch some rays in sunny Cuba, but the Winnipeg wheelchair-user says he was caught off guard when he arrived and was forced to shell out for accessible transportation.

Michno said he made the arrangements over the phone with a Sunwing Airline official to ensure he had everything he needed, including accessible flights, hotels and a ride from the airport.

The Sunwing representative he spoke with during that call was very accommodating, said Michno, but things were different the second his plane touched down.

A Sunwing employee in Cuba informed him wheelchair users have to pay extra for a handi-van to take them to the hotel — regardless of the all-inclusive nature of the trip — while other Sungwing guests get free transportation by bus, said Michno.

"In my view this is kind of like, if it's all-inclusive, it's all-inclusive for everybody, right?" he said. "I don't think it's fair for the disabled people to pay more for the same kind of vacation that able people get."

Michno said in the midst of the confusion he realized he hadn't properly filled out a special online form in advance that requests separate transportation for people with disabilities.

Sunwing covered the $70 US taxi fee to get him to the hotel, but he was on the hook for the same charge on the way back to the airport at the end of his trip, he said.

'Bit of discrimination'

Michno questioned whether Sunwing's policy truly accommodates people like him with mobility challenges.

"To me it seems like a little bit of discrimination against wheelchair users," he said. "If I take transit bus in Winnipeg, I don't have to pay extra because I'm in a wheelchair."

Michno holds up a photo of him taken during his time in Cuba. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A spokesperson for Sunwing said vacation packages generally come with shared coach transportation, and all customers have access to private transfers at an additional cost.

"When we can accommodate our customer's accessibility needs with the transportation provider without assuming additional costs, we make the necessary arrangements to do so," the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. 

"Unfortunately in this particular case, the customer was travelling to Cuba where accessible transportation options are very limited and require advanced coordination at an incremental cost."

'Extremely apologetic'

The company said it does not tolerate any form of discrimination. After reviewing the incident, the spokesperson said there was a miscommunication between the airline and the Cuba-based ground transportation team that day.

"We are extremely apologetic for the way in which our customer's request for special assistance has been handled overall," the spokesperson wrote in an email Friday. "We will be issuing an apology and refund to the customer immediately."

Michno said despite the transportation troubles he would potentially travel with Sunwing again in the future, though he doesn't think their current policy is fair.

"I don't care much for apology," he said. "I would like to hear from Sunwing that they stop charging all disabled people extra for transportation, so we are treated like all other people."

Michno said he doesn't see why all-inclusive vacationers with mobility accommodation requirements should have to pay more for handi-transit to and from the airport. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

With files from Nelly Gonzalez