PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — A disabled British Columbia man who can't walk and uses a motorized wheelchair for mobility says he was forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas after the airline's third-party ground assistance personnel were not available to help him.
Prince George resident Rodney Hodgins said Sunday he's going to push for changes to ensure no other disabled person endures what he experienced.
"I don't want anybody else to have to go through that," he said in a phone interview. "I would like a change within their policies or how they do things. Air Canada needs to step up."
Hodgins, 49, who can't walk due to spastic cerebral palsy, said he originally thought the flight attendant was joking when he told him he would have to get himself off the airplane, but was shocked and angry when he was asked a second time to disembark without support.
"Can you get to the front of the plane?" he quoted the flight attendant as asking. "I said, 'Of course I can't. I'm in a wheelchair. I can't walk.' "
The hardware salesman said he was forced to use the strength of his upper body to pull himself down the airplane aisle, while his wife, Deanna, held his legs, which cannot move.
Hodgins said the experience, which occurred this past August when he and his wife were travelling to celebrate an anniversary, left him feeling violated.
"Especially when I'm sitting there in that chair and that flight attendant says to me, 'Can you get to the front of the plane,' ' he said. "And I'm like, 'No.' Then he said it to me a second time, so that's when I got up and I told my wife, 'Move my legs,' and I dragged myself to the front of the plane."
Air Canada, in a statement, said it has contacted Hodgins to offer compensation and apologies for the inadequate level of care he received at the Las Vegas airport.
"We use the services of a third party wheelchair assistance specialist in Las Vegas to provide safe transport on and off aircraft," the statement read. "Following our investigation into how this serious service lapse occurred, we will be evaluating other mobility assistance service partners in Las Vegas."
Hodgins said he also received a call from Air Canada offering him a $2,000 flight voucher.
"It doesn't matter if they send me $10,000, $15,000, it's not going to fix the problem," he said. "I really don't care about the money or the voucher or anything like that. I just wanted to make a difference for somebody else so they don't have to experience that again."
Hodgins said he would rather see Air Canada invest money in providing better service for people with disabilities.
Deanna Hodgins said the airline "dehumanized" her husband when they forced him to get himself off the airplane.
"People with disabilities don't want special treatment," she said. "Rodney doesn't want special treatment. We just need him to have dignified treatment."
Hodgins said he's recently been contacted by Canada's chief accessibility officer Stephanie Cadieux, who posted on social media earlier this month that Air Canada forgot her wheelchair on a cross-Canada flight.
Deanna Hodgins said the couple has also been contacted by an enforcement officer from the Canadian Transportation Agency, which processes complaints and settles disputes between travellers and airlines.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2023.
— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria
The Canadian Press