NEW WATERFORD, N.S. — Safety concerns for people with disabilities have ramped up on the Sydney airport tarmac once again.
Anita Chiasson said despite expressing concerns about the care of her 87-year old mother-in-law Lucy Chiasson of New Waterford, disembarking from an Air Canada plane at Sydney’s J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport on Monday, Lucy was carried off the plane strapped in a Washington chair.
“Four men who carried her off the flight,” Anita said. “I was upset. She’s 87-years old.
“In this day and age people with disabilities should be accommodated and not have to go through the humiliation of having four men carrying you off a plane.”
Anita said this practise is dangerous not only for her mother-in-law but for the workers as well.
“This should not be happening.”
Anita and her husband, Wayne Chiasson, formerly of New Waterford, have lived in Innisfil, Ont., outside Toronto, for the past 38 years. They wanted to spend Christmas with Lucy but were concerned about her traveling. Lucy has mobility issues and uses a walker.
Anita said she reads the Cape Breton Post online and followed the ordeal of Marcie Shwery-Stanley in a similar situation.
“We followed these articles and now they are affecting us personally.”
Shwery-Stanley, who has physical disabilities and has been an advocate for people with disabilities for the past 37 years, had expressed her concerns during an Oct. 4 trip she was placed in a Washington chair — an adjustable chair — and was carried aboard an Air Canada flight. The same practise happened on the return flight, both of which she described as, “unsafe, scary and humiliating.”
After she expressed her concerns, Air Canada officials contacted her and said the large jet was seasonal and when it’s brought back in the spring they will have a ramp in place for it. In the meantime, she was told West Jet’s ramp was being borrowed for the smaller plane.
Anita said the stories made them all feel better as Lucy wouldn’t be able to walk up the stairs and they didn’t want her carried and also expressed these concerns with the travel agent.
“I felt she could probably easily travel, knowing there would be a ramp.”
However, after Lucy flew to Toronto on Dec. 12, Anita was upset to hear that, although there was a ramp, Lucy had to walk up the ramp, assisted by Air Canada staff.
On Jan. 6 Anita spoke with the Air Canada medical desk wanting to ensure Lucy wouldn’t have the same problems with her return flight.
Anita was told it was up to her to find out what happened on the flight to Toronto but they’d make sure on the return flight she’d get the care she needs.
Gloria McNeil, a friend of Lucy’s, was also her caregiver for the trip. Gloria was aware of the family’s concerns and was surprised after landing at the Sydney airport to see Air Canada staff strapping Lucy to a mobile chair.
“They were tying her at the waist, her legs and ankles,” she said.
Gloria said she walked behind Lucy.
“I was a basket case, worried they were going to fall.”
The ramp was in place when they flew to Toronto, Gloria said.
“Where was it when we came back? There weren’t any other planes on the runway so it wasn’t being used anywhere else.”
Lucy said for her flight to Toronto, Air Canada did have a ramp.
“I had to walk up it, it was difficult,” she said, adding she appreciated assistance by Air Canada staff who were kind to her.
In the meantime, she didn’t know what was going on when she disembarked in Sydney Jan. 7.
Lucy said she was told she had to get into a chair and was strapped in and carried down by four men. She admits it was frightening.
“I was nervous,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Don’t drop me.’”
Lucy, who has a sharp sense of humour, did make the best of it at the time, joking with the Air Canada workers.
“The four guys were really nice to me.”
In the meantime, Allana MacNeil, also a daughter-in-law and from New Waterford, was at the Sydney airport to pick up Lucy. Allana said with the angle of where the plane was parked on the runway, her view was partially blocked. However, she saw enough to know Lucy was being carried off the plane.
“I thought, ‘This is barbaric.’”
Allana said another woman was carried off that same flight and once in the terminal she noticed a third passenger in a wheelchair but didn’t see how they were taken off the plane.
They don’t blame any of the staff at the Sydney airport and feel bad for them, Allana added.
“They are only doing what they are told to do.”
Anita said after hearing Lucy was carried off the airplane, she called Air Canada’s medical desk again, asking to speak to Steve Sexton of Ottawa, manager of station operations for Air Canada.
“He was in the (Post) story and seemed to help Marcie, so I thought he might help us too.”
“I was told, ‘No, you have to send an email through customer relations.’”
'This should not be happening.' - Anita Chiasson
Anita said she’s equally upset over not being able to reach anyone at Air Canada to talk about this.
“I shouldn’t have to email, I should be able to talk to a live person. I know this is an age of technology, but this is my 87-year old mother-in-law that we’re talking about. She doesn’t have a computer, she doesn’t have a cell phone, it’s up to her children to be her advocates.”
Anita said she’s not getting upset with Air Canada staff as they have been nice and done what they could, it’s the policies and procedures in place that upset her.
“Marcie spoke out to help others and now we’re doing it too so we can help this not happen to someone else.”
The Post contacted Air Canada Wednesday afternoon regarding the family’s concerns. Not long after that call, Anita said they did receive a call from Sexton and he listened to their concerns.
“He was very nice, very gracious,” she said.
“He is looking into some things and said he would get back to us. I told him, ‘That’s all we ask, for a solution. That’s what we’re here for, to support Marcie and to get a solution.’”
Marcie Shwery-Stanley commended the family for speaking out to bring attention to this problem for people with disabilities. Shwery-Stanley was disappointed to hear what Lucy had to go through but was also puzzled, after being told Air Canada would be using West Jet’s ramp for the smaller jets until their own ramp was ready in the spring.
As result, she contacted Sexton and was informed Air Canada was using West Jet’s ramp but, since the agreement was put in place, West Jet has undergone a retrofit and their express ramp was made higher and is no longer compatible with Air Canada’s airplanes. Shwery-Stanley said she was also told the ramp Air Canada has ordered will be compatible with all their airplanes.
“They’ll be able to use it for the Embraer 75, Embraer 90, right up to the 767 jet.”
Shwery-Stanley said she’s satisfied and although Air Canada won’t have a ramp for a couple of months, she feels they are doing all they can to rectify the issue.
“I’m pleased as Steve had promised to keep me up-to-date and I know although there’s a little bump in the road, it’s still a priority for him.”
In an email response to the Cape Breton Post, Sexton said Air Canada is very much aware of these concerns and is working diligently on improving the service it offers to passengers with disabilities and hope to have alternative solutions in place as quickly as possible.
“We always encourage our customers to contact us with any concern.”