After a physically and emotionally painful and “dehumanizing” travel experience, a Prince George couple is still waiting for compensation from Air Canada over two months later.
“At first, we thought it was a joke.”
What was supposed to be a happy anniversary in Las Vegas was tainted before they even got inside the airport.
Rodney and Deanna Hodgins were shocked when they were told to get themselves off their Air Canada flight without a wheelchair or any help from airport crews.
Rodney has spastic cerebral palsy, which he said means his “muscles tense up and have a lack of movement… I can’t bend my legs as well as someone else, my motor skills are not as good either.”
He can’t walk and requires a motorized wheelchair.
Rodney said he has had 15 major surgeries caused by cerebral palsy.
The couple was seated in the 12th row of Air Canada flight AO 1058 on August 30th, 2023 from Vancouver to Vegas.
Thinking back to that afternoon, Deanna said she and Rodney were the last two passengers on the plane – something that is not uncommon when they travel – waiting for a crew to arrive with a special wheelchair designed for airplane isles.
Still waiting after 20 minutes, Deanna said a flight attendant asked them to move to the front of the plane so the cleaning crew could start working.
“We actually laughed. We thought it was a joke, we did not take it seriously at all, we thought he was giving us the gears” Deanna said. “Then the cleaning crew came on board and started cleaning, now we have eight staff members around us and the guy repeats again – you have to get to the front of the plane.”
With no help in sight, Rodney told Deanna to help him move his legs into the aisle so he could pull himself with his arms.
“I dragged myself all the way to the front,” Rodney said. “When we got to the front there were no more seats for me to hang on to. I grabbed a hold of [Deanna’s] shoulders… she was trying to hold me up, but I am too heavy for her.”
It was at this point that a single Air Canada employee helped load Rodney into an aisle chair and helped him off the plane.
The crew that was supposed to do it never showed up.
“It was dehumanizing to say the least,” Deanna said.
The crew that was late to the plane with the chair were not Air Canada employees, they were contracted to provide that service, but Deanna pointed out “That is beside the point. It was their staff that told us to get off the plane.”
“It is not a quick process for Rodney to go from row 12 all the way to the front of the plane – you have to understand his legs are stiff as can be. I am on the ground, pulling and pushing his feet for him… not a single one of those staff members had the decency to help us in any way – that was Air Canada staff,” she said.
Their flights to Vegas were booked eight months in advance, which included all of the information on Rodney’s disability, wheelchair measurements, and aid requirements.
“They know well in advance we are coming on that flight,” Rodney said.
Rodney also stated he was in physical pain from the ordeal for the first three days of their vacation.
On the way home, Air Canada bumped them from their evening flight from Vancouver to Prince George, which the couple said forced them to book a hotel for the night for over $600.
Air Canada did offer the couple $2,000 in flight vouchers as a form of compensation after the Hodgins went public with their experience, however, the two said they haven’t received it yet.
Through all this, Deanna said they won’t be boycotting Air Canada, but they are calling for changes.
“We don’t want special treatment, we just want dignified treatment,” she explained.
“We want a change in the whole system. It should be a smooth transition getting on and off that plane,” Rodney said. “They should have a crew there waiting for that person to come on… there shouldn’t be a 20-30 minute wait.”
Rodney said this was not the “first time this kind of thing has happened,” saying an entire flight they were on in Montreal was delayed by two full hours because a crew did not arrive to help him board.
“We would love to say to them – not to be rude – that this is where you failed us, this is how it could be better,” Deanna said.
Air Canada provided My PG Now with the following statement:
“Air Canada had initially reached out via email on Oct. 7 to Mr. Hodgins to apologize and to offer compensation for his upsetting travel experience. We subsequently learned this email was never received; however, we successfully contacted Mr. Hodgins by phone on Oct. 24 and also have records of two additional two follow-up emails sent, one on Oct. 24 and one on Oct. 30 to offer compensation and our apologies as the level of care that should have been provided at the destination airport were not. We use the services of a third-party wheelchair assistance specialist in Las Vegas to provide safe transport on and off aircraft. The flight attendants followed procedures, including offering assistance that was declined. Following our investigation into how this serious service lapse occurred, we will be evaluating other mobility assistance service partners in Las Vegas.”
In the two months since their flight, Rodney and Deanna have been gaining attention nationally.
The couple said they were contacted by Stephanie Cadieux, Canada’s Chief Accessibility Officer.
“She has given us some advice and says she would like to take Air Canada to task,” Deanna said.
Air Canada is not in Cadieux’s good books right now either, her wheelchair was left in Toronto by the airline while she was flying to Vancouver earlier in the month.
— Stephanie Cadieux (@Stephanie4BC) October 21, 2023
Other politicians, from local city council up to Members of Parliament, have also contacted the Hodgins.
Deanna said a letter was even written to the Prime Minister’s office on their behalf, which has received a private response.
Ultimately, this experience will not stop the Hodgins from traveling in the future.
“I want us to travel and enjoy life as long as my body is going to let us, because one day it is not,” Deanna said. “We do it all now, we live a pretty crazy life and we love it.”