Rodney Hodgins says airline should apologize after ‘dehumanizing’ experience that left him in pain for days Michelle Ghoussoub, CBC News
Posted: Oct 27, 2023
A B.C. man who uses a wheelchair says he was forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas, after the airline failed to provide the assistance required for him to safely exit the plane.
Rodney and Deanna Hodgins flew from Vancouver to Las Vegas in late August, in a much-anticipated trip to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Rodney, who is 49, has spastic cerebral palsy, and uses a motorized wheelchair.
The Prince George, B.C. couple travels every year, and is accustomed to the standard process to help him exit the plane. Usually, after the rest of the passengers have exited, an airline employee will bring an aisle chair – an extremely narrow version of a wheelchair controlled by handles.
But after landing in Las Vegas, an Air Canada flight attendant told the Hodgins no help, and no aisle seat, was coming – and said Rodney would need to get to the front of the plane by himself.
The couple said the suggestion was so absurd, they laughed, thinking it was a joke.
“How am I supposed to get to the front of my plane when I can’t walk? If I didn’t need a wheelchair, I wouldn’t have been sitting there,” said Rodney.
The Hodgins’ said they eventually felt they had no choice, didn’t want to be rude, and didn’t want to hold up the plane. Rodney lifted himself down to the floor and used his arms to drag himself from row 12 to the front of the plane, while in excruciating pain. Deanna crawled in the aisle behind him to help.
An Air Canada flight crew, including the pilot, co-pilot, two flight attendants and eight cleaning staff watched, but didn’t intervene.
In a statement, Air Canada said “we use the services of a third party wheelchair assistance specialist in Las Vegas. Following our investigation into how this serious service lapse occurred, we will be evaluating other Mobility Assistance service partners in Las Vegas.”
Deanna called the experience “dehumanizing.”
“You are watching this man grab the back of a chair and then struggle and fight while I’m on the ground, crawling on the ground moving his legs, and we’re trying to get him to the front of the plane. I’m fighting his spasms trying to lift up his legs,” she said.
Once the couple reached the front of the plane, Rodney was able to access his motorized wheelchair. They said they were in shock, and asked to speak to the airport manager, who apologized profusely.
The Hodgins enjoyed their vacation, though the ordeal left Rodney with significant pain for several days.
On their return flight, an Air Canada representative met with them, and told them to go through the airline’s formal complaint process.
They didn’t hear back from anyone at Air Canada until Rodney received a phone call from a customer service representative offering a $2,000 flight voucher for a future flight.
“I thought – it’s not about that. I want you to change your policy so that you always have somebody there all the time when a person with a disability is coming off that plane. I just really don’t want this to happen to another person,” said Rodney.
Deanna said they’re hoping Air Canada will issue a formal apology, saying, “I truly believe [Air Canada] violated my husband’s human rights.”
The Hodgins said they decided to share their experience after seeing a high-profile story about Stephanie Cadieux, Canada’s chief accessibility officer.
On Oct. 20, Cadieux tweeted that she was “furious” after Air Canada forgot her wheelchair, an experience she described as “frustrating and dehumanizing.” Cadieux has since been in touch with the Hodgins to offer her advice.
Deanna said their family is accustomed to the work involved in travelling, including researching the type of plane and whether it can accommodate a wheelchair.
The Las Vegas trip had been organized eight months in advance, and Rodney’s wheelchair had been altered specifically to fit in the wheelchair cargo area of that plane.
“I just thought … they don’t care about me,” said Rodney.
“Someone should reach out to us and say, we failed you.”
Air Canada is offering to settle certain outstanding compensation cases stuck in the Canadian Transportation Agency backlog. But many being offered an informal but negotiable settlement say it’s a bad deal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle Ghoussoub is a reporter and anchor for CBC News based in Vancouver. She has received a nomination for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com.
With files from Michelle Morton