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Wheelchair user slams Air Canada after being carried out of plane

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Wheelchair user slams Air Canada after being carried out of plane

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‘This is one of those instances where travelling with a disability is, unfortunately, not so glamorous’

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A Toronto woman who posts about her travels as a wheelchair user on social media is speaking out after being carried off an Air Canada flight in what she describes as a terrifying ordeal.

Tori Hunter, who documents travelling with spinal muscular atrophy, said she received no advance notice that she would be carried off the plane once it arrived in Costa Rica.

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In video of the incident, a clearly frightened Hunter can be seen being carried down a flight of stairs in what she describes as “a broken aisle chair” with broken front wheels and no armrests or straps.

The chair is angled sideways during steep descent and Hunter’s father can be seen keeping his hand on her face, trying to hold her upright.

“You can see from my face how distraught and absolutely terrified I was,” she wrote. “Never in my life have I felt so out of control and so disconnected from my body.”

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“I was never informed that this would be how I would have to disembark the plane,” she added.

Hunter wrote that being carried off the plane wasn’t a possibilty she had considered since the airport uses jet bridges, which are enclosed, movable connectors that extend from the airport terminal gate to an aircraft.

Hunter noted that “all of the other planes” at the airport appeared to be making use of jet bridges.

“I love sharing my travels as a wheelchair user because I truly believe that there is so much in this world (that) is accessible and I want to inspire people to experience that,” she added. “But, this is one of those instances where traveling with a disability is, unfortunately, not so glamorous.”

Hunter shared the video, which has nearly 11 million views on TikTok, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 16, just days after the federal government wrapped up the National Air Accessibility Summit.

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The summit was to address and find solutions for the travel challenges faced by persons with disabilities.

Three days after sharing the video, Hunter followed up on it, addressing comments that said the situation was handled about as well as could be.

“It wasn’t just about me. This crew should not have been put in that situation, to have to carry me down the stairs when there were other solutions that didn’t require them to be put in that unsafe situation,” she said. “People are failing to acknowledge that this video that I created is talking about a bigger systemic issue. We’re talking about airlines that are making multi billion dollars a year that are not prioritizing accessibility.

“The fact that they’re that they can board me onto a plane with equipment that is broken, with staff that don’t have an appropriate training on how to assist customers with disabilities. The fact that there are thousands and thousands of dollars a day in broken and damaged mobility devices, because airlines cannot properly secure people’s wheelchairs in the cargo. It’s astonishing.”

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In a statement to BBC, Air Canada said the airport was unable to provide a jet bridge, so they had to use a different method and “all protocols for helping customers with disabilities were followed.”

The airline added it will be “reviewing airport procedures, including for smaller foreign stations, with the aim of working with local airport and other partners to find ways to provide more consistent service.”

In February, Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau was questioned at a House of Commons committee hearing about the airline’s “shocking” failures to accommodate passengers with disabilities, including an incident where a man with spastic cerebral palsy was forced to drag himself off an airplane due to lack of assistance.

“The vast majority of customers requesting accessibility help from Air Canada are having a good experience. There are exceptions. We take responsibility for those exceptions,” Rousseau said, adding that the “inconsistency” was the main issue, which further training could help alleviate.

Air Canada has pledged a number of measures to address the issues in a three-year accessibility plan, including establishing a customer accessibility director and annual, recurrent training in accessibility.

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In her followup video, Lacey contrasted the luxurious amenities some airlines offer in comparison to the experiences of passengers with disabilities.

“We’ve probably all seen the videos of airlines that now have queen size beds, and they have showers, they have entire bars in the middle of the aircraft,” she said. “But they can’t make sure that people with disabilities can actually board and get off the plane in a dignified and safe way.”

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