On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, B.C. resident Tim Kubash did not expect to be denied boarding a flight due to his motorized wheelchair.
“I got no leg function but still got arms and hands,” Kubash told Global News.
After an accident on a piece of machinery a year and a half ago, the former golf course superintendent was left a paraplegic.
This past weekend he was speaking at a conference in Victoria about the barriers people with disabilities face every day.
But when he went to board his flight home, he did not realize he was going to face yet another barrier.
“It’s a bit of a raw deal, to be honest with you,” Kubash said.
When he was checking in, he discovered WestJet had no record of his wheelchair accommodation request, despite the fact he had previously contacted them about it.
He said the staff expressed concern over the type of battery powering the wheelchair but as it’s a gel cell battery, it is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration as safe for flying.
“Ultimately, it was up to the pilot’s discretion,” Kubash said. “And the final decision was I would not be flying that day.”
In a statement to Global News, WestJet said they apologize for what happened and take full accountability for the error.
“Upon boarding, for safety reasons, the operating crew requested confirmation of the type of battery connected to Mr. Kubash’s wheelchair prior to it being loaded into the aircraft. This information is typically obtained at check-in or prior to boarding and included on a guests’ reservation, unfortunately this weekend it was missed by the airport team in Victoria.
“While typically this type of situation is rectified promptly, unfortunately the system our airport team uses to verify dangerous goods information (which includes batteries) wasn’t operating correctly and they were unable to confidently verify acceptance of the battery type in time for departure. It was solely for safety reasons and out of an abundance of caution that the operating crew was not comfortable accepting the wheelchair without the proper battery verification and the flight was fully boarded.”
WestJet said it also rebooked Kubash on the next available flight and provided him with meal, transportation and accommodation details, along with reimbursement.
But for those living with disabilities, they said a scenario like this one is all too common.
Heather Walkus, national chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said when she heard the news about what happened to Kubash, it was just another normal event for people with disabilities in Canada.
“I wish I was surprised that it was not the norm, but it is,” she told Global News.
“We’ve never been taken that seriously as being a customer. We pay the same fare, we do not ask for anything other than being equal, equally treated, equity and we have strong regulations in this country that state what responsibility the federal aviation authorities have.
“This is not new and yet attitudes and environments always disable us.”
Kubash said no one living with a disability should have to face what he went through and he hopes that by telling his story he can help break down more barriers.
But Walkus said she would like to see people trained properly by people with disabilities so their experiences can be explained.
“They didn’t look at him as a customer and do everything they could to support him.”