Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Wheelchair Ride to Disney World

Air Canada, one of the most reviled airlines in the world, has added another notch under its belt for outrageous, careless and negligent behavior. After destroying a $15,000 specialized wheelchair for a young boy suffering from a disease who was on his way to New York for a charity run in his honour, Air Canada decided that the best way to resolve this incident was by offering him and his family a free trip to Disney World. A trip to Disney World was on his list of things that he was hoping to do, so they do have the benefit of fulfilling his one of his wishes. That's great, and it was no doubt a popular idea with the PR squad who's afraid of controversy, but it fails to gloss over some pretty obvious problems.

First off, why did Air Canada dismantle such an important piece of machinery without consulting the owner? A wheelchair is not a pair of skis for someone's vacation to Aspen. At $15,000, this wheelchair was probably a complicated and specialized piece of equipment. What would have possessed them to dismantle it? Was it because it was easier to board? Space limitations?

Fair enough, there may have been space limitations, but why not consult the people beforehand? And if it wasn't possible to fit the wheelchair, maybe it was somewhat irresponsible of them to board the owner of the chair. Airlines are obligated to accommodate clients with accessibility issues, and one of those things should be to ensure that their equipment will be transported in a manner that is safe and functional. And if they can't do it, they should not accept the client. It's a safety issue, not a nuisance like bags of peanuts or the surly look on the faces of flight attendants when you ask them for blankets.

It seems that Air Canada can add "treating clients with accessibility issues badly" to their list of things that they do wrong, along with canceling flights at the last minute with no consideration for alternate arrangements for their clients. While it's annoying that they treat their regular clients like mindless cattle and throw their bags with angry abandon on board, it's just criminal for them to treat their special needs clients badly. It's negligent and disrespectful, and in some cases, it could potentially be dangerous.

Air Canada will have to do a serious check on its attitude and how it will treat these clients in the future, because there's no amount of Disney World trips that will make up for this kind of treatment which could potentially have implications down the line. Being known as the airline which can't accommodate special needs properly is not the reputation that this airline wants to have.

Note to Air Canada- when you take this kid to Disney World, don't dismantle his wheelchair or lose it along the way. Because then your reputation will be sealed. But it would be a great chance for a new slogan for the company: Air Canada- treating everyone badly, equally.

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