Air Canada apologizes for not letting blind woman fly with guide dog

Air Canada apologizes after banning a blind passenger from boarding a flight from Toronto to Minneapolis with her guide dog.

Dena Wainwright, a 49-year-old Canadian who lives in Minnesota, says she will never fly with the airline again after she was forced to leave Toronto by train, drive across the border and catch a domestic flight. which cost him over $2,000. .

« Not to mention all the stress, » Wainwright told CBC Toronto.

« Being treated by Air Canada employees like I was a criminal, like I was being held hostage, making them talk to my daughter instead of me. Like I was too mentally retarded to have a consistent conversation with the agent. »

Wainwright’s case is not the first time this year that Air Canada has faced controversy over how it treats passengers with disabilities. In September, CBC News reported the story of Maayan Ziv, an accessibility activist who traveled with Air Canada from Toronto to Tel Aviv, only to find her wheelchair damaged after her flight landed.

Wainwright works in technology and accessibility as a vice president at Fidelity Investments. She is also completely blind after being born with a genetic eye disease.

Last week, Wainwright traveled to Toronto from Minneapolis to celebrate her birthday with her daughter. She was also traveling with her service dog Lilo, a five-year-old black lab.

Wainwright says she was able to board and travel on the Air Canada flight from Minneapolis to Toronto without any issues. During check-in, Wainwright was asked if the animal was registered with the airline, which it was not.

« They said, ‘Oh, that’s OK.’ They handed us our boarding passes and said, ‘Have a good flight,' » Wainwright said.

‘It was humiliating. It was degrading

But when the group attempted to board their flight back to Toronto, Wainwright said the service dog suddenly became a major problem.

She says Air Canada staff told her she couldn’t fly with Lilo because she hadn’t completed the necessary paperwork to bring a service animal into the cabin of an airplane.

She says she was given the option of putting the dog in the cargo, which Wainwright says wouldn’t have worked since she relies on the animal for help.

According to Wainwright, the airline also said the dog could enter the cabin if she « proves » to them that she has a disability by showing a National Institute for the Blind ID card. Wainwright says she doesn’t have a card, since she lives in the United States, where there is no equivalent.

« It was humiliating. It was degrading. »

Wainwright says she was also offended by airline staff who, during the argument at the airport, preferred to speak with her daughter, who is not blind.

In the end, Wainwright traveled to Windsor, Ontario. by train, crossed the border by taxi and flew to the Detroit airport, where she was able to make the round trip to Minneapolis with Lilo comfortably at her feet.

« I will never fly with Air Canada again, » she said.

Dogs must be registered, says Air Canada

According to Air Canada, service dogs must be registered with the airline at least 48 hours prior to travel. It’s unclear why Wainwright wasn’t told before her flight or why she was able to bring her dog on the first leg of the trip without any problems.

Responding to questions from CBC Toronto, an Air Canada spokesperson called the situation « regrettable » and said the airline had spoken and apologized to Wainwright.

Air Canada says service dogs must be registered with the airline 48 hours before boarding any of its flights. However, the company says in Wainwright’s case, « we failed to meet our usual standards of customer service. » (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

« Air Canada successfully flies tens of thousands of customers with disabilities each year, but in this case we failed to meet our usual standards of customer service, » the statement said.

« We do transport service animals, but there is a process in place to ensure they are certified in advance and it was not followed in this case at the start of this customer’s journey. We We are internally reviewing why this customer was allowed to travel initially without the proper documentation,” the airline added.

Airline rules may vary

Larissa Proctor is the Guide Dog Advocacy Manager at the Canadian Institute for the Blind. They say guide dogs are usually brought on board flights and should not be carried in cargo as they are trained to snuggle at the feet of a passenger.

While it’s common for guide dogs to fly in the cabin, Proctor recommends travelers find out about the rules in place before traveling, as they can vary depending on the airline.

« So that might mean calling an airline ahead of time to find out what kind of forms need to be filled out. Typically, they’ll want information about your dog, like the dog’s breed and weight, » Proctor said in a statement. interview.

They add that, on the other hand, airline staff should treat blind people like any other passenger and if in doubt about someone’s disability, they should not hesitate to ask questions.

« A lot of the time, especially if you’re talking to someone who’s blind or visually impaired, we want to be spoken to directly as a customer, » Proctor said.

« So treat us like you would treat any other customer. »


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