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WestJet CEO’s apology rings hollow for B.C. Paralympian after ‘humiliating’ boarding

A former B.C. Paralympian who had to drag herself up an aircraft’s stairs says she’s not satisfied with apologies from WestJet’s top executive on Parliament Hill on Thursday.

Speaking to a House of Commons transport committee, CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech apologized for a string of recent incidents in which the airline let passengers with disabilities down.

“We are sincerely sorry and we are committed in doing better,” he said, adding that the airline has begun taking steps to improve accessibility.

That apology rang hollow to Sarah Morris-Probert, one of the airline’s most high-profile recent failures.

“I haven’t had a public apology from WestJet after this event,” she told Global News.

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Morris-Probert, the president of BC Adaptive Snow Sports, was flying home to Kelowna from Cabo San Lucas in November when she was told there was no air bridge to allow her to board the flight in her wheelchair.

Staff suggested carrying her up the stairs, which she said was dangerous. Instead, she was forced to lift herself up the stairs one at a time, while being watched by other passengers.

“It’s humiliating and it’s dirty,” she said.

“Apparently, WestJet is claiming in my particular case that the cabin doesn’t have facilities for wheelchair users — and I will say that there was a ramp within sight that could have been deployed but wasn’t.”

Morris-Probert said all people with disabilities want is a consistent experience, that includes pre-boarding so that they don’t hold up other passengers.

People with disabilities provide a variety of information to the airlines ahead of time when they check in, she said, making it even more frustrating when accommodations aren’t in place when they arrive.

“We have jumped through the hoops already for the airlines — Share that information. They have a communication system, it obviously doesn’t work,” she said.

“It would appear that unless there are fines involved, change is not happening.”

WestJet executives told MPs Thursday that staff who regularly interact with passengers with disabilities will undergo mandatory accessibility training.

Company executives said some of the solutions they are implementing will be in place “before summer,”

They added that the company’s top priority is ensuring all wheelchairs make it onto the same plane as the passenger they belong to.

That issue was highlighted by accusations the company lost a Calgary man’s wheelchair on a trip in August with connecting flights.

Von Hoensbroech said that while the company was working on its technology to improve accessibility, a key part of solving that problem is communication with airports to ensure flights don’t depart until all wheelchairs have been confirmed to be on board.

— with files form Naomi Barghiel

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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