Disability advocate ‘humiliated’ by treatment on Air Canada flight to Hawaii

The Ottawa disability advocate says he was embarrassed and humiliated by his treatment by Air Canada staff, who were unprepared to deal with a man in a wheelchair.


Max Brault hoped the Air Canada business class flight he booked to Hawaii would be the trip of a lifetime for him and his wife, two weeks on an island paradise to watch his stepson’s wedding.

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But the Ottawa disability advocate says he was embarrassed and humiliated by his treatment by Air Canada staff, who were unprepared to deal with a man in a wheelchair, even though Brault had checked over and over. time to make sure the airline was aware of your special needs.

He was so angry and embarrassed that, in fact, he says it took him months to make up his mind to tell his story.

“I don’t like to show weakness. I like people to think I have my sh*t in order,” said Brault, vice president and accessibility consultant for BDO Canada and former senior accessibility advisor for Infrastructure Canada.

“But by saying this openly, I am admitting that I had a moment of weakness. I know that I fight for people with disability rights. But I am humbled by this. I am absolutely humiliated.”

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It’s an awkward position for Brault, the former executive producer of a show called AccessabiliTV and co-chairman of the National Council of Federal Employees with Disabilities.

“What really hurts the most is that I did everything right,” Brault said. “I was very harsh with my travel agent. I said, ‘Make sure you double check. Triple check…” This was a trip we were dreaming about and it turned into a nightmare.”

Brault, 52, has used a wheelchair since his 20s due to degenerative spinal muscular atrophy. He is a seasoned traveler and knows the obstacles involved in traveling with a wheelchair, especially one powered by lithium-ion batteries, like the smaller “hybrid” chair he brought to Hawaii.

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But when he and his wife, Laurie, arrived at the Ottawa airport for their 7 a.m. flight on April 14, the airline threatened not to let him board.

“Will your husband need help getting on the plane?” she said the gate agent asked.

Surprised, Brault responded, “What are you talking about? My file must be up to date with all my medical needs and requirements.”

“The system has nothing on your requirements,” Brault said she responded.

She then had him fill out and refill the paperwork for the batteries, something he had already done when he booked the tickets.

Worse yet, when it was time to board, the airline did not have a special device called an Eagle Lift available. The lift holds a disabled person in a sling and is narrow enough to roll down the aisle of an aircraft, then rotate to lower the passenger into the seat. Instead, airline employees lifted Brault and carried him aboard the plane to his seat. At one point he was knocked over and hurt his elbow on the armrest.

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Frustratingly, the same problems occurred at stops in Toronto and Vancouver. In Vancouver, Air Canada staff misplaced Brault’s wheelchair, nearly causing the couple to miss their connecting flight to Honolulu. That flight had to be held for 45 minutes and again Brault had to be carried to his seat by staff.

“I like to have things in order. When they see me as the bad guy, like I’m the villain, it really pisses me off,” Brault said.

“I became the quintessential disabled person that everyone stereotypes. The grumpy guy in the wheelchair. I am a fun loving guy. I like to talk to people. But when the third person in a row says, ‘Why not…?’ I start to lose control.”

The couple paid $4,200 each for their return business class tickets. Air Canada has not offered even a partial refund.

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“I paid first class for everything. And I have nothing.

“It still hurts. It took me a long time to get over this,” said Brault, who has organized workshops on accessibility and in 2019 evaluated the accessibility of the Ottawa LRT for this newspaper. (He gave it an A.)

In an emailed response to this newspaper Thursday afternoon, Air Canada acknowledged that it mishandled Brault’s flight.

“While we generally deal directly with our customers, we can tell you that the service these customers received was clearly not up to our normal standard and we are very sorry,” the airline said in a statement. “We have contacted them to apologize and also to offer them a goodwill gesture as compensation for the difficulties they encountered on this part of their journey.

“FYI, we transport tens of thousands of customers with mobility aids each year and recognize our obligations to ensure they have a smooth journey. Normally that is the case, but in this case we did not provide our usual high level of care and customer service and have followed up internally to strengthen our procedures and ensure greater consistency going forward.”

Brault said Thursday afternoon that he was pleased with Air Canada’s response, but that the airline had not yet contacted him directly.

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