A Toronto man is accusing Air Canada of discrimination after the airline told him he can’t take the flight he has booked to Cleveland next month because his wheelchair is too tall to fit on the plane.
Tim Rose has cerebral palsy. He works as a disability consultant, and often has to travel for business. But when he was following up on the flight with Air Canada on Sunday, Rose says airline staff told him he wouldn’t be able to bring his motorized wheelchair.
Rose says his wheelchair is a standard size, standing just under a metre, but the airline says the door to the cargo hold on the aircraft that is scheduled to make the Cleveland flight is about 13 centimetres shorter.
“I’ve travelled around 40, 50 times on planes in my life” said Rose, adding that he has never been turned away by an airline.
Rose says Air Canada staff told him his wheelchair counted as “oversized luggage” and it would not fit on the plane.
“I told them it was discrimination,” said Rose. “And they said, ‘No it’s not, it’s the same thing as if you had an oversized bag. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.’
“Essentially what they’re saying is that my wheelchair, which is a part of my body, it’s a part of my dignity, it’s a part of my independence, is a bag … I am not an oversized bag.”
The Canadian Transportation Agency says that transportation service providers must “ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to federal transportation services” and accommodate people with disabilities up to the point of “undue hardship.”
It’s unclear, however, whether that applies to Rose’s case. The agency, a quasi-judicial tribunal mandated to ensure that Canada’s national transportation system is accessible to everybody, has not weighed in.
Rose said that while there are laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities, this situation is a bit murky because Canadian laws don’t explicitly mention mobility devices.
Rose said that since he posted about his situation on social media, all the airline has done to get in touch with him is post publicly on Facebook.
Air Canada offering alternatives
The airline says it has offered Rose two options: he can either take a connecting flight on a plane that can accommodate his wheelchair or he can be flown out separately, so his wheelchair is transported on a different flight.
But Rose says these offers haven’t been made to him. And he said that taking a connecting flight isn’t a good option for him anyway because he also has a service dog, and transferring between planes takes extra time for him. In this case, he said it would be quicker for him to get a ride to Cleveland rather than take a flight with a layover.
An Air Canada representative has also said that the airline is looking at doing tests to see if there’s any way Rose’s wheelchair could be made to fit through the cargo door without causing damage.
“I don’t think Air Canada should be running any planes that cannot accommodate average-size mobility devices,” Rose said.
“Air Canada has a duty to service all passengers.”
Air Canada says it regrets the situation but that it is limited by the type of aircraft flown on the Toronto to Cleveland route.
“Air Canada carries thousands of customers with wheelchairs each year and we have extensive policies and procedures in place to accommodate customers with all kinds of disabilities,” said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email to CBC News.
“We are in contact with the customer and continue to review this matter and if we cannot find a satisfactory resolution we will provide a full refund,” he said.