B.C. man who spoke out against Air Canada's mistreatment of disabled passengers says he's hopeful of changes

Ryan Lachance says airline’s acknowledgement of mistreatment of disabled clients is a ‘proper starting point,’ but he’d still like an apology

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A B.C. man said he’s cautiously optimistic that Air Canada is pledging to implement friendlier accessibility policies after multiple reports of mistreatment of passengers with disabilities.

Ryan Lachance said he was raised in the belief that actions speak louder than words.

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“Hopefully they actually come through.”

On Thursday, Air Canada said it will enact new policies that range from establishing a customer accessibility director to consistently boarding passengers who request lift assistance first. The company also aims to implement annual, recurrent training in accessibility — such as how to use an eagle lift — for its 10,000-plus airport employees, and include mobility aids in an app that can track baggage.

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Lachance said the changes were a long time coming.

“It’s just all common sense things that they should have thought of when dealing with people with disabilities in the first place, but sometimes you gotta be told.”

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He decided to speak out about his bad experiences with Air Canada after an incident in which 50-year-old Rodney Hodgins, who lives with spastic cerebral palsy, was forced to drag himself off of an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas. The case triggered an investigation by the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Lachance said his own experience with Air Canada left him nervous to fly despite needing to travel for work. The B.C. comedian said staff ignored his request to provide him an assistive device when exiting a flight in Vancouver, and dropped him on the floor after struggling to hoist him onto a wheelchair themselves.

Lachance, who lives with quad-spastic cerebral palsy, said that despite giving prior notice of his needs, and insisting throughout the process for an eagle lift, the company’s staff repeatedly rebuffed his request. Instead, two members of Air Canada’s crew tried and failed to lift him from his seat onto a wheelchair several times, straining for more than an hour before dropping him hard on the floor.

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“The gentleman at my legs and the gentleman at my back weren’t communicating. The gentleman at my legs pulled, and that’s what caused me to slide on the floor,” he said. “I just ended up sliding off the seat, and that’s when I landed on the floor and banged my back on the back of the chair.”

Lachance sustained multiple bruises to his back and bottom, leaving him bed-ridden for several days, he said. Lachance, of White Rock, B.C., was returning from a comedy festival from Halifax via Toronto in May 2023 when the incident took place.

Emma Troulx, Lachance’s caretaker who was travelling with him, said flight attendants were standing by and ignored her requests for an eagle lift. The attendants were apologetic and provided her “toiletries … chocolate bars and chips,” from first class, she said.

“When the one flight attendant said ‘We’re giving you this, so you don’t hate us,’ I was so mad,” she recalled.

Lachance said staff picked him up off the ground after multiple attempts and finally agreed to bring in the eagle lift.

“(The eagle lift) took a few minutes to go get. And (after) they came back. I was off the airplane within 15 minutes,” he said.

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Lachance said he has been dropped while exiting an Air Canada flight once before, in November.

The airlines offered him a $500 voucher at the time, which he accepted. After the latest incident, he didn’t accept a voucher and said he hasn’t flown “at all” since.

“I’m afraid to do that and put my body through that,” he said. “It’s not like they’re picking up a sack of flour. They’re picking up a human being.”

While Lachance said the airline’s acknowledgement of its mistreatment of its disabled clients is a “proper starting point,” he would like personal apologies from Air Canada executives to those who have shared their negative experiences publicly, he said.

“Heck, even the people who were dealing with him on the flight,” Troulx said.

Statistics Canada found that 63 per cent of the 2.2 million people with disabilities who used federally regulated transportation in 2019 and 2020 faced a barrier.

Additional reporting from Canadian Press

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