WestJet CEO apologizes for accessibility failures

WestJet chief executive officer Alexis von Hoensbroech apologized Thursday for incidents where the airline failed to accommodate people living with disabilities, saying he hopes to improve travel accessibility.

“To our guests who didn’t have a good travel experience with us, we are sincerely sorry, and we are committed in doing better,” von Hoensbroech said during a House of Commons transport committee hearing on accessible transportation.

More than 99.9 per cent of the carrier’s 260,000-plus customers who required support last year — roughly 700 each day, the vast majority of whom used wheelchairs or mobility aids — had a good experience, he said.

“Every case that goes wrong is one too many,” the CEO said.

Several incidents have surfaced at Canadian airlines over the past year.

WATCH | Air Canada needs better training to help people with disabilities, says B.C. man: 

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Ryan Lachance and his caregiver, Emma Proulx, say Air Canada crew need better training to keep people with disabilities safe.

In August, a B.C. man with spastic cerebral palsy was forced to drag himself off of an Air Canada plane in Las Vegas. Last fall, former Paralympian Sarah Morris-Probert hauled herself up WestJet aircraft stairs rather than being able to board using her wheelchair.

“Everyone’s always very sorry and very committed to doing better whenever these things happen, but these high-profile incidents continue to plague Canadian airlines,” Conservative MP Mark Strahl told von Hoensbroech.

“Thoughts and prayers are no longer acceptable.”

Von Hoensbroech highlighted steps WestJet is taking to boost accessibility. These include a process to confirm to customers that mobility aids were loaded into the cargo hold and procedures to properly store those devices on board across its whole network. Both measures are set for rollout “very soon,” he said.

Advocates insist tougher rules and enforcement are needed to reduce accessibility barriers.

WATCH | Man forced to drag himself off Air Canada flight says he hopes for change: 

Man forced to drag himself off Air Canada flight vows to keep fighting for people with disabilities

Air Canada has apologized to a B.C. man after staff told him he would need to get to the front of the plane without any assistance. The airline has also admitted it violated Canadian disability legislation. Rodney Hodgins hopes the situation will lead to systemic change.

“As a blind passenger, I dread entering Canadian airspace, because I never know how good or bad will be my treatment,” said David Lepofsky, a lawyer who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, in a Wednesday news release that called for stricter regulations and a crackdown by regulators.

“Month after month, the media has reported on inexcusable and recurring incidents where an airline loses or destroys a passenger’s wheelchair, leaves a passenger with disabilities to crawl off an airplane,…

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