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Friday,  May 24, 2024 3:14 AM 

WestJet CEO apologizes for accessibility failures as lawmakers take airlines to task

WestJet CEO apologizes for accessibility failures as lawmakers take airlines to task
WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech appeared at a House of Commons transport committee on Thursday (Feb. 15). (LinkedIn)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech appeared at a House of Commons transport committee hearing on accessible transportation on Thursday (Feb. 15) where he apologized for incidents where the airline failed people living with disabilities.

Speaking about the meeting on his LinkedIn page afterwards, von Hoensbroech wrote how “no organization operates with zero failures and there have been a few very unfortunate cases where things went wrong.”

“We deeply apologize to the impacted guests,” the CEO wrote. “We don’t want any one of our guests with disabilities to arrive at their destination without their mobility device or their device being broken or to experience any other kind of service failure.”

von Hoensbroech noted that every year WestJet flies more than 250,000 guests who require accessibility support to complete their journey.

“I am proud of the entire WestJet team that goes above and beyond to support those guests and the vast majority of those trips are completed with a positive and smooth experience,” he wrote.

However, “every failure is one too many,” he wrote, “and every failure is also an opportunity for us to learn and improve.”

The CEO's appearance came on the heels of a committee hearing last week that saw lawmakers grill Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau over “shocking'' failures around air travel accessibility.

Last November, Air Canada said it would quickly introduce new measures to remove barriers for customers with disabilities, after several high-profile incidents exposed the airline’s shortfalls.

Mr. Rousseau issued an apology that month and vowed to speed up Air Canada’s Accessibility Plan for 2023-26.

Improved boarding and seating, better customer communications, new processes that prevent delays or damage to mobility devices, and more training and investment in special equipment, such as lifts, are just some the new measures Air Canada has promised.

Other new policies range from implementing a customer accessibility director to consistently boarding passengers who request lift assistance first.

Last month, Air Canada because the first airline in North America to adopt the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program, which 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.

WestJet, too, has established a task force to further improve accessibility services, von Hoensbroech wrote.

“Be it to establish a firm process that guests never depart without positive confirmation that their mobility device is on board the aircraft, be it by improving our handling and protection procedures to prevent devices from being damaged, and be it by enhanced clarity on what capabilities we actually can offer on a particular aircraft type or airport,” von Hoensbroech wrote. 

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