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Tuesday,  March 5, 2024 12:14 AM 

Air Canada adopts program for passengers with hidden disabilities, unveils committee

  • Air
  •   01-30-2024  4:01 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Air Canada adopts program for passengers with hidden disabilities, unveils committee
Air Canada has implemented the Sunflower Lanyard program to better serve travellers with hidden disabilities. (Air Canada)
Pax Global Media

Air Canada said Tuesday (Jan. 30) that it has become the first airline in North America to adopt the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program to better serve customers with non-visible disabilities.

The program employs the use of a discreet sunflower symbol to identify customers with non-visible disabilities.

Air Canada has also announced the first appointments to its new Customer Accessibility Advisory Committee, a move that it says will accelerate a three-year accessibility plan.

READ MORE: Air Canada unveils new policies for passengers with disabilities, CEO apologizes

"Air Canada is the first airline in North America to adopt the Sunflower program, which will enable us to better assist and serve our customers with non-visible disabilities such as autism,” said Tom Stevens, vice-president, customer experience and operations strategy at Air Canada, in a news release. “Our customers make 1.3 million accessibility requests each year and this initiative further demonstrates our commitment to improve accessibility, which we are reinforcing through the creation of a Customer Accessibility Advisory Committee.”

“Consisting of customers with disabilities from accessibility groups in Canada, the committee will contribute to heightened awareness and help us identify barriers and develop solutions.”

Adding to Toronto Pearson

It isn’t the first time the Sunflower project has been used in Canada’s aviation space – Toronto Pearson (YYZ) announced its own Sunflower Lanyard initiative in 2020, providing a discreet way for travellers to communicate if they need extra help, or more time to complete a task, while travelling through Canada’s largest airport.

The program, which began at Gatwick Airport in 2016 and has since spread to other airports and public spaces in Europe and elsewhere in the world, acknowledges that a person’s disability is not always visible to others.

Sunflower Lanyards are a symbol of invisible disabilities all around the world. (Turkish Airlines)

Invisible disabilities can include autism, arthritis, chronic fatigue, mental health, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, speech disorders, learning disabilities and more.

Turkish Airlines implemented the Sunflower Lanyard project in 2022.

Where to get the lanyard

By wearing a Sunflower lanyard, Air Canada customers can now indicate to airline staff that they may require additional assistance, have specific needs, or simply require more time while travelling.

Air Canada says it is training and building awareness amongst all customer-facing employees to recognize and respond appropriately to participating customers.

The lanyard is available at check-in counters at Hidden Disability Sunflower member airports in Canada and on board all flights operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge and Air Canada Express.

Customer Accessibility Advisory Committee

Air Canada, meanwhile, has established an advisory group of customers with disabilities.

The airline says the committee will provide input “from the perspective of our customers with disabilities” to help guide the company’s path and vision in accessibility.

The advisory group will initially have representatives from four Canadian accessibility groups, including: Donna Jodhan, Barrier Free Canada; Paul Rogers, Brain Injury Canada; Isabelle Ducharme, Kéroul; and Joanne Smith, Spinal Cord Injury Canada.

Accelerated accessibility plan

Last November, Air Canada revealed that it is accelerating its accessibility plan through a series of measures to remove barriers for customers with disabilities.

The update came on the heels of Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau apologizing for the airline's accessibility shortfalls following several high-profile incidents.

(Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk)

Last year, Air Canada admitted that it violated Canadian disability regulations after a 50-year-old B.C. man with cerebral palsy was forced to drag himself off a flight in Las Vegas when he was told no wheelchair was available.

In November, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) issued a penalty of $110,000 against Air Canada for various violations of the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations (ATPDR).

That fine was linked to Air Canada’s obligations around people with a disability and their service dogs, relating to an incident that occurred in June 2023.

Air Canada on Tuesday reiterated some of the actions it is now taking.

During boarding, for example, customers at the gate who request lift assistance will be “consistently boarded first” before all other customers and seated at the front of the cabin they booked, the airline said.

Air Canada says it is investing in new equipment at Canadian airports, such as lifts, “to ensure that we can meet the expectations of our customers.”

Mobility aids, meanwhile, “will be stored in the aircraft cabin when possible,” the airline says.

“When mobility aids are stored in the cargo hold, new systems are being put in place to track them in transit, including a process to confirm mobility aids are properly loaded before departure,” the company said.  

Customers travelling within Canada are now able to track the journey of their mobility aid using the Air Canada app.

Air Canada says it will also enhance its staff training and create a new senior position of director, customer accessibility to help advance the strategy.


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