TORONTO – A Toronto man is accusing an airline of discrimination after he says he was barred from a flight because his wheelchair is about 13 centimetres too tall for the plane’s cargo area.
Tim Rose, 31, said he was told he wouldn’t be able to fly on an Air Canada flight this September to Cleveland, where he’ll be speaking to a large corporation about rights for people with disabilities.
Rose said he felt dehumanized when a representative from the airline told him that his wheelchair was akin to oversized luggage.
“I said, ‘This is discrimination,’ 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.’ So essentially, she just compared me to luggage.”
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, who works as an advocate for people with disabilities, 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.
A representative from Air Canada said the plane that travels between Toronto and Cleveland – a CRJ regional jet – has a cargo hold door that is too small for Rose’s wheelchair.
The representative said the airline contacted Rose and presented him with two options: to take an indirect flight on planes that have a larger cargo door or to have the wheelchair transported on a different flight and sent to him when he arrives in Cleveland.
But Rose denied receiving any such offers.
“They have not presented me with any options. They haven’t even spoken to me (since posting on social media),” he said.
Rose 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.
In a video posted to Facebook, which now has more than 14,000 views, Rose said that there are no other carriers that offer direct flights between Toronto and Cleveland.
The Air Canada representative 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.
Rose said all he wants is the same access to services as people who don’t need mobility devices. He said he’s not asking for special treatment – just the same access that everybody else gets.
Marc Roy, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said the minister’s office has held a number of roundtable sessions in the past few months to determine ways to “modernize” transportation policy, adding that an update to the policy is required every 15 years.
He said the most common feedback was about transparency in ticket prices, a faster security check process and greater accommodations for people with disabilities. He said there was a particular demand to make travelling easier for people with “invisible disabilities” like autism and dementia.
But Roy didn’t say whether any changes would be coming soon, saying only that they’re in the process of seeing “how or when” people’s suggestions could be implemented.