Air Canada humiliates passenger

A woman whom resides within the Ottawa region has formally complained against Air Canada policies due to her last trip to Alberta. Not only was she humiliated during her trip , she accuses Air Canada for discrimination against her disability.

"I am filing this complaint with Air Canada for humiliation, stress, mistreatment, communication barriers, unnecessary hardship and stranding a disabled person in an unfamiliar environment. "

Christine 'Coco' Roschaert is a 33-year-old influentional speaker and director of the Nepal Deaf Blind Project  who has travelled the world to represent this community and to raise awareness of the rights of the deaf-blind. Roschaert is born deaf  and also suffers from retinitis pigmentosa herself, circumstances that has taken away her peripheral vision since her early adolescence.

Never before in over 1 000 flights has she faced any problems to fly to one country to another. June 7th 2013 marked the day of which that statement changed. Coco was to travel from The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier to Edmonton on  a direct flight the same day. This trip was planned for several months and all the according preparation had been organized by her family members. At 4am, her dad assisted her to the airport, where the assistants from Air Canada took over immediately. She was then invited to board the aircraft within a few hours with the helping hands of her collaborator without further complication.

Never before in over 1 000 flights has she faced any problems to fly to one country to another. Then, twenty minutes following the boarding, a big and muscular man came forth and escorted Coco off the airplane without further explanation.

“I thought I was being arrested for something, or that I was in trouble,” Roschaert told CTV Ottawa, speaking through her sign-language interpreter.

After a brief moment, the Air Canada Manager made his appearance and explained the situation with the help of Christine's Ipad. He explained to her that she had been pulled off from her flight because of Air Canada's policy upon hearing and visual impairment. Due to the gravity of her disability, she could not be awarded to travel alone without a medical clearance.

" I have traveled extensively, worldwide. In fact, this year I checked off the 50th country I have visited and my passport which is two years old, is 2/3 full with many stamps from countries I have visited. I have travelled by plane since the age of 12 and never once have I been denied access to a flight because I am Deafblind. Never once have I been kicked off or removed from a plane. And it was happening to me in Canada, my own country." said Christine.

Christine was greatly overwhelmed by this situation, never has she been denied to fly from one destination to another before. According to Air Canada's policy, these regulation have been part of their system for as long as they can remember. Air Canada has long required customers with severe visual and hearing impairment to travel with an attendant by their side in order to facilitate communication between one another and accustom these individuals according to their needs. This process provides maximum security in case of emergency and enable you to obtain assistance if an evacuation is required. Consequently, those whose desire to travel by themselves must obtain medical clearance from the airline. 

"I have never signed the form because I felt that I would be signing away MY freedom as an independent traveller. - I would like to think that my experience and expertise is to be taken very seriously. " 

Roschaert says she's flown with Air Canada hundreds of times in the past without an attendant and not once has she encountered this policy refraining her right to travel alone. She was eventually let on another flight to Edmonton and then transferred to a flight to Calgary. Throughout her trip, she says she was guided un-professionally with people who were clearly untrained to help those with disabilities such as hers. 

"So, all in one day, I was kicked out of a plane, rendered speechless when I was allowed on the next one, uninformed as to why it happened, then was guided by someone untrained to guide a blind person and was chided for wanting water, and then left alone by myself in the baggage area by someone who claimed to work for disability assistance. Never have I been ashamed to fly on Air Canada or humiliated as a person or felt so mistreated as a Deafblind person. Air Canada represents my country, one I have always been proud of living in, because of its strides to accommodate persons with disabilities."

On-going battles are being faced but many stay unresolved or the legislation is not respected.

«Accessible public transportation in all of its forms requires universally designed systems that allow flexibility and accessibility for the greatest number of people and specific accommodation for those who needs are outside of what can be accommodated through universal design » said Stienstra , a known author within the disability community.

In this case, Air Canada followed their protocol. Without doubt, many changes need to be made in order to facilitate transportation for these individuals. Indeed, our society still has a long way to go before contemplating an absolute equality treatment. Perhaps some customer sensitivity and further training about understanding and communicating with an individual who has a disability is in order for the Air Canada's staff. Furthermore, an extensive review must take place to determine why this policy was not applied with a consistent manner, but their number one priority is indeed the safety of their passengers, which they applied accordingly. This is a legitimate safety concern for this individuals and their surroundings when any individual may not be able to understand or follow instructions by their own during critical phases of the flight.

"There was no communication, I had no idea what was going on. I felt quite scared, to be honest,” she said

First and foremost,  Air Canada provided Christine with the equality to attainable and reliable transportation. In this case, Christine opted to disregard Air Canada's policy and thus deprived herself of key means of communication. While Air Canada has a duty to accommodate every passenger, and to provide them with great customer attention, this policy is in place to help customers with serious health issues just like Christine's.

Unfortunately, her perception of the following events was quite different from Air Canada's attendants. Christine did not acknowledge Air Canada's attempt to insure the safety and comfort of the passengers with disabilities and then proceeded to complain that her rights were abused and violated by the Canadian airline.

“Until this matter is resolved and policy is changed, and staff / assistance heighten their sensitivity training for persons with disabilities, I will refrain from travelling on Air Canada and its fleet.”

Roschaert has already cancelled her next flight with Air Canada and made plans to travel with West Jet in the future.

Photo Credit: CTV News and Loyalty 360


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