By Adam MacVicar Global News
Posted January 22, 2024
A Toronto man’s trip home from Calgary on a Porter Airlines flight was quickly derailed Sunday after he was denied access to the plane because of his power wheelchair, even after he cleared the issue with the airline before his flight.
Ken Harrower was set to board the flight at the Calgary International Airport when he was approached by the pilot, who insisted he couldn’t board the flight with his wheelchair due to the batteries it uses.
“The pilot decided to not let me board because I cannot disconnect the batteries on my chair,” Harrower told Global News.
According to Harrower, the batteries in his chair can’t be disconnected without a trained technician.
“My power chair is my legs, and if they are taken away from me or damaged, then I’m stuck,” he said.
The flight left without him, leaving him stranded in Calgary.
“I feel Porter and the pilot discriminated against me,” Harrower said.
Harrower and his travel companion, Erin Bradenburg, were booked on another flight on Monday but were forced to find a hotel for the night; the pair were not offered travel vouchers at the time.
This is a frustrating situation given Harrower and Brandenburg had checked with Porter Airlines’ accessibility office weeks before his original flight to Calgary on Jan. 7.
The pair said there were no issues with the chair on their flight on Porter from Toronto to Calgary; they spent two weeks at the Banff Centre of the Arts to finish writing a play based on Harrower’s life.
Brandenburg said the pair were assured there would be no issues with Harrower’s power wheelchair, and the batteries it used were safe for air travel.
“It’s been really frustrating and upsetting and humiliating for Ken and really disappointing for all of us,” she said.
Disappointing but not surprising for Darby Young, an accessibility advocate and founder of Level Playing Field.
Young said situations like Harrower’s are ongoing barriers, and that booking hotels and flights come with an added anxiety for people who require mobility devices to get around.
“We’re slowing trending in the right direction, however, there’s still a major gap,” Young told Global News. “As much as there’s an accessibility officer for an airline, whoever loads the bags, loads the devices, even the pilots, there’s a major disconnect over what these scooters and wheelchairs are.”
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Porter Airlines said the situation was “a case of human error.”
“The captain who made the decision to deny boarding did so based on his knowledge of Transport Canada regulations related to batteries,” the airline’s statement said. “While there are some circumstances that batteries need to be fully removed from wheelchairs, it was not required in this situation.”
The statement added that the battery was disconnected by its ground crews in Toronto for Harrower’s original flight from Toronto.
Porter said it has taken measures to reinforce the “regulations related to batteries” to avoid scenarios like this one from happening again.
“Porter offers our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and personal impact this has caused Ken,” the statement said. “Our president and CEO have been in contact personally to offer a refund for the flight, cover any expenses incurred from the delay, and provide an additional flight credit.”
Fortunately, Harrower and Brandenburg were able to board their Porter flight back to Toronto from Calgary without issue on Monday.
Harrower said the airline offered him a $2,500 credit for the inconvenience.
However, he hopes this situation spurs more transparent disability policies for airlines in the future.
“All airlines need to have a clear policy right across Canada,” Harrower said. “It should not, and must not be up to the pilot.”