BY PAT CARNEY, SPECIAL TO THE VANCOUVER SUN JULY 10, 2015
Air Canada passengers who need wheelchair help are experiencing horrors with contracted-out attendants.
It has been a few weeks now since I flew my last Air Canada flight and the anxiety attacks are fading, although the drone of an aircraft overhead can still pop perspiration beads on my brow and cause my hands to shake.
It is not the fear of flying that has grounded me. It’s the fear of being delivered overseas from Toronto Pearson International Airport on a routine Toronto-Vancouver flight.
I am no novice at air travel. As a member of the airline’s Million Mile Club, Air Canada awarded me a model Boeing 777, new luggage tags, priority boarding and access to the business lounge, even if I am travelling in the back of the Airbus.
The problem is I am a bionic woman, with several metal joints that limit my mobility. I need a wheelchair to proceed through security and the airport terminal.
Air Canada or airport personnel usually have pushed me in the wheelchair, my carry-on balanced on my lap, through the terminal to the aircraft with cheerful expertise.
But recently Air Canada replaced airport personnel in some airports with privately contracted attendants who, in my case, were inexperienced in airport terrain, wheeling me about with no clear idea where they were going.
Attendant A wheeled me from Air Canada’s regional jet across the tarmac to a door with access to Boston’s Logan International Airport terminal. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the code to unlock the door. I was worried my cousins would think I had missed my flight and leave.
Frustrated, I grabbed my walking cane and beat furiously on the door of the terminal while the hapless attendant stood by. Somehow a security barrier was breached. Sirens screamed. Lights flashed on and off. Trucks roared up, entrapping in their headlights a female Canadian senior, trapped in her wheelchair with luggage, purse and duty-free Scotch, attacking the terminal with her walking stick.
Did shots ring out? I couldn’t hear in the din. Finally the door was unlocked by a uniformed official.
When I arrived at Toronto’s famed Pearson airport on my Air Canada flight a few days later, there was no one to meet me and another woman with limited English, who also needed assistance. We waited for 35 minutes, accompanied by the entire flight crew, who explained they could not leave the aircraft until all passengers had been discharged, flight schedules be damned.
Finally one lone Attendant B appeared at the end of the corridor, pushing two wheelchairs. The brakes didn’t work on my chair, which I discovered as it edged backwards.
B struggled to manually push both loaded wheelchairs to the elevator, where she handed the other passenger off to a passing attendant and managed to wheel me down to the customs lineup.
Like a scene out of a disaster movie, there were 12 or 13 people slumped in their wheelchairs at the side of the customs hall. There were no attendants in sight. Some seemed to be falling out of their chairs, waving their arms for attention. Some waved tickets, fearful they would miss their connecting flights.
Two uniformed Canadian Air Transport Security Authority agents pounced on B, demanding to know why there were no attendants present. B shrugged and stoically pushed me through the flight crew customs booth, as determined to off-load me as I was determined to be off-loaded.
Mia’s thought’s- here is my personal experience at pearson airport- https://disabledaccessdenied.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/hey-toronto-internation-were-wheelchair-users-not-livestock-enough-with-the-coralling/