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The nightmare of disabled passengers on board planes

The nightmare of disabled passengers on board planes

The nightmare of disabled passengers on board planes

For safety reasons, current federal regulations require passengers in wheelchairs to sit in airplane seats, and most mobility devices must be stowed in the cargo hold with travelers’ baggage.

James Glasbergen of Kitchener knows this procedure, but dreads it every time he flies.

And when he boarded an Air Transat flight from Toronto to London on June 30 to see the Rolling Stones in concert, his concerns proved justified: airline staff dropped in the aisle while being transferred to his seat. There followed a struggle of more than three minutes to raise and install the 90 kg man in his seat.

There wasn’t enough room to fit me in the seat and they let me downrecalls Mr. Glasbergen, a 46-year-old former travel agent who was paralyzed following a car accident in 1992.

All of a sudden, my body hit the ground with a loud thud. »

A quote from James Glassbergen

After two failed attempts, a flight attendant and another passenger intervened and the group managed to seat him.

It goes beyond frustration and shock. I’m madcontinues James Glasbergen, who adds that it was not the first time that he found himself on the ground.

There is absolutely no dignity for people with disabilities who need assistance.

It calls on airlines and regulators to find a way to allow wheelchair users to remain seated in their personal mobility devices when traveling, such as on buses and trains.

If We Can Fly a Helicopter to Mars, We Can Make Wheelchair Travel Safehe suggests.

Transfer problems, damaged wheelchairs

Air Transat has apologized and claims to have contacted its passenger to discuss how to improve future travel experiences, the carrier said in an email sent to CBC.

Ground transfer services are managed by a third party. We are actively investigating this incident to prevent it from happening again.writes spokesperson Marie-Christine Pouliot.

Melissa Graham, a Toronto resident with limited mobility, says sitting in an airplane seat is a challenge for her body.

She also claims that her wheelchair suffered two breakages while traveling between Toronto and Winnipeg with WestJet over the Canada Day weekend.

Melissa Graham smiles at the camera.

Enlarge image (New window)

Air travel is stressful for Melissa Graham because she has to leave the comfort of her wheelchair and sit in an airplane seat, but also because her wheelchair has been damaged many times in the past.

Photo: Photo provided by Melissa Graham

Ms. Graham noticed upon her arrival in Winnipeg that one of the mudguards on her electric wheelchair had broken, while the backrest she leans on for support and balance was damaged during the return flight.

WestJet confirms that Ms. Graham has a claim for damages under investigation and that her service provider will contact her to resolve it.

It’s incredibly frustrating. It makes air travel very stressfultestifies Melissa Graham.

I’ve flown six times since last December, and haven’t had a single flight where I felt completely comfortable.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), the federal air travel regulator, says it has received 247 complaints related to aerial wheelchair accessibility over the past five years. Eighteen concerned damage to wheelchairs, while 214 concerned assistance to people with reduced mobility.

But this data only includes complaints to the regulator and not those that passengers made directly to an airline.

Regulations also require airlines to ensure that properly trained personnel perform wheelchair transfers and reimburse passengers for the cost of repairing or replacing mobility devices damaged during transport.

Photos of the alleged damage.

According to Melissa Graham, the mudguard of her wheelchair broke on a WestJet flight from Toronto to Winnipeg earlier this summer, while the backrest was damaged on the flight home.

Photo: Photo provided by Melissa Graham

Although Canada-specific data is not available, the largest airlines in the United States lost or damaged at least 15,425 wheelchairs between the end of 2018 and June 2021, it said last year. The Washington Postciting data from the US Department of Transportation.

According to’OTCno aircraft design or mobility aid device that would allow people to remain in their wheelchairs has been fully tested and certified to meet the aviation safety standards of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States; standards that Canada follows.

If wheelchairs and a wheelchair restraint system for use in the cabin were to receive certification, we would consider whether a regulatory change is appropriatedeclares theOTC in a press release.

Progress in the United States

A boost could soon come from south of the border.

Last week, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his department would work in the months and years to come on a rule that would allow passengers to remain in their wheelchairs during their flight.

Pete Buttigieg speaking to reporters, in front of the blue background saying 'Office of President-Elect', appears to have a halo around his head

Pete Buttigieg is the US Secretary of Transportation.


Last September, a committee of experts convened by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the United States has concluded a preliminary study of systems that use straps similar to a seat belt or other mechanism to secure a wheelchair to the floor of an aircraft.

The study shows that most airliners in service have a main gate wide enough for most personal wheelchairs, and that the interior of the most common models, the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, would only require modifications minor to create an area where a wheelchair could be secured.

The committee did not identify any issuessays the study, which would call into question the technical feasibility of an in-cabin wheelchair securing system.

L’OTC says to be aware of the study and to monitor the matter, but adds that further research is needed.

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