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Wednesday,  April 17, 2024 5:31 PM 

Air Canada CEO, disability advocates clash at accessibility meeting

  • Air
  •   03-21-2024  11:23 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Air Canada CEO, disability advocates clash at accessibility meeting
Air Canada’s CEO Michael Rousseau (left). (Air Canada/Shutterstock)
Pax Global Media

The CEO of Air Canada shared differing views with disability advocates on the airline’s accessibility shortfalls during a Tuesday (March 19) meeting with a House of Commons transport committee.

Michael Rousseau, who heads Canada’s largest airline, said just 1,950 passengers who requested special assistance last year—or 0.15 per cent of the total 1.3 million—filed complaints.

“This is not to minimize the number of incidents nor the serious impacts the disruptions have on the individuals involved,” he said at the meeting, according to a report from the Canadian Press. “But it is important context that indicates, first, we do a good job and, second, more importantly, we need and we will continue to get better.”

He also noted that “the chief issue was inconsistency” and said training would be provided to fix the problem.

Disability rights advocate David Lepofsky countered that complaint statistics don’t take into account the travel experiences of many people, including Heather Walkus, who heads the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

“I personally have spent four hours parked at a gate waiting for a flight,” she said. “No one’s come to see me. There’s no way to contact anyone. I’m having to go to the washroom. I can’t get something to eat.

“We’re moved like luggage from one end to the other.”

When Rousseau said he recognized these issues were “probably underreported,” Lepofsky, who heads the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, again addressed the transport committee.

“To be able to say you’re doing a good job and these are the numbers is to be shockingly out of touch with our experience,” he said.

The House of Commons meeting comes on the heels of Rousseau’s apology last November for Air Canada’s accessibility shortfalls following several high-profile incidents.

“Air Canada recognizes the challenges customers with disabilities encounter when they fly and accepts its responsibility to provide convenient and consistent service so that flying with us becomes easier,” Rousseau said in a statement at the time. “Sometimes we do not meet this commitment, for which we offer a sincere apology. As our customers with disabilities tell us, the most important thing is that we continuously improve in the future.

"We are listening to them and today we are committing to do better and demonstrating that commitment with concrete actions.”

In January of this year, Air Canada became 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.

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

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