Air Canada Told to Consider Disabled

Air Canada has received a mild slap on the wrist for failing to provide a woman who had knee surgery with a wheelchair despite the fact she asked for one when she reserved her flight.

The airline has been ordered to issue a bulletin to its employees at Pearson airport within 30 days reminding them to be sensitive to the needs of travellers with disabilities, according to a decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The action comes after a complaint about a flight taken by Ingrid Polacco to London, England, from Pearson on March 5, 2003. She had requested a wheelchair because she had recently undergone bilateral knee replacement surgery. When it came time to board the flight, no wheelchair was to be had.

"Things fell a little below what we would normally provide," Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said yesterday.

"Air Canada does take its commitment to special-needs people very seriously. ... In this case, we regret Mrs. Polacco's experience was unsatisfactory. ... Before she even filed her complaint, we did acknowledge our shortcomings and offered her a travel voucher."

The ruling requires the bulletin "reinforce the importance of initiating discussions with persons with disabilities who have requested assistance, such as wheelchair assistance, to ensure that their needs and abilities are clearly understood and to ensure that uninformed assumptions are not made, for example, the ability of a person to walk."

Fitzpatrick said the airline will comply with the ruling.

Air Canada has improved its services since Polacco's experience, Fitzpatrick said, with the establishment of a special-assistance team for travellers with all types of special needs.

The night Polacco reported to the airport for her flight was one of the busiest travel days at Pearson. She was told to go to the wheelchair desk but was not provided with a wheelchair.

Instead, according to the decision, an Air Canada agent helped her to the departure gate with her luggage. Polacco had to walk to the security area and beyond to her gate and then to the aircraft using her cane.

In her submission, Polacco said "all other passengers with disabilities were provided with wheelchair assistance."

The decision said Polacco, who could not be reached for comment, found the walk to the aircraft and finding her seat without assistance "extremely painful, particularly as she was carrying a bag containing her duty-free products in addition to using her cane."

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