An Air Canada passenger who relies on a wheelchair says flight crew staff from the airline dropped him on the airplane floor during his last two flights with them.
White Rock comedian Ryan Lachance, who often travels for his comedy shows, said in the wake of recent stories about how passengers with wheelchairs have been treated by the airline, he felt it was time to share his own experiences.
“I wanted to give a voice to people who have to go through things like this… if I have the courage to bring my story out there, they might do the same, and things might change,” Lachance said.
Last month, Canada’s chief accessibility officer and South Surrey resident Stephanie Cadieux, who relies on a wheelchair, was stranded in Vancouver when her wheelchair was left in Toronto.
On Oct. 30, there were more stories in the news about a man with cerebral palsy who was reportedly, forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight in front of dozens of passengers and airline staff in Las Vegas.
Since birth, Lachance has lived with quadspastic cerebral palsy, which limits the use of all four of his limbs and also his speech, and he must use a motorized wheelchair.
When he flew to Penticton in 2022 to do a comedy show, he said the airline was understaffed and “not really trained” on how to pick him up properly.
“They were transferring me from my airplane seat to what’s called an aisle chair – it’s kind of like a miniature wheelchair on wheels, that they put you on to wheel you out of the aircraft – and they lost grip of me,” he said.
“I was trying to instruct them on what to do because I’ve travelled numerous times… I bruised my back and I bruised my butt and I was in quite a bit of pain and I was there to deliver a show.”
He didn’t report anything the first time, he said, because he just wanted to move on from the dehumanizing experience.
But it happened again when, after performing at a comedy festival in Halifax May 2023, he was travelling back to Vancouver on an Air Canda flight.
Lachance, who is accompanied by a care assistant and uses an eagle lift to help him move from his airplane seat into the aisle chair, said staff didn’t listen when he and his care assistant explained he needed the eagle lift and instead, tried to do the job themselves, again, dropping him in the process.
“I had bruises all over my body. I had to be on bed rest for four days. It was a lot more painful, and a lot more awkward, and it involved a lot more people and a lot more time. It was awful,” the comedian said.
His past two experiences did not make him feel good.
“(I felt) put on display. It makes me extremely gun-shy to travel, even though I have to travel for work. It makes me afraid to fly. I want to expand my career to other parts of the country and the world.”
The airline did offer him $500 in flight credits after he filed a formal complaint, he said, but he doesn’t feel that’s enough.
“There’s been no, ‘We screwed up, we’re sorry.’ At this point, I want the president of Air Canada to apologize on behalf of the company – not just to me, but to everybody else that this has happened to. You’re not doing things right,” Lachance said.
“I want them to fix their plane protocols, first of all, and train their staff with the proper way to transfer people and the proper way to use the equipment. I want to feel comfortable flying.”
The Peace Arch News has reached out to Air Canada for comment.
A poker tournament to benefit Lachance has been organized by his friends. It happens Sunday, Nov. 19 at 12:30 p.m. at the Crescent Beach Legion.It happens Sunday, Nov. 19 at 12:30 p.m. at the Crescent Beach Legion.
Despite his most recent experiences, the comedian’s sense of humour is still intact.
Asked what he’s going to do, he had quip ready, lightning-quick.
“I’m going to try WestJet next time.”
– with a file from Tom Zillich