Imagine having your 43rd wedding anniversary ruined because of the actions of a few airport officials. Worse, imagine being forced to spend your entire anniversary crawling around like a slug.
Thanks to several airport officials, an amputee who lost his left arm and right leg in a workplace accident 35 years ago, didn’t have to imagine anything, disabled Canadian man Stearn Hodge is claimed.
“An anniversary is supposed to be all about remembering how you fell in love … and keeping that magic alive. And those things were denied. I’m crawling across the floor and it is pathetic,” he said in a recent interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the ordeal he suffered in 2017.
According to Hodge, 68, he and his wife had been en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Feb. 26, 2017, as part of their 43rd wedding anniversary festivities when a Canadian Air Transport Security Authority agent and a United Airlines official confiscated the batteries from his scooter.
“Hodge said no one from CATSA or United Airlines would listen to him or read IATA documents he had printed out, showing his batteries are permitted on board if an airline gives prior approval. Hodge had received that permission,” the CBC notes.
Instead, they kept yapping about alleged safety concerns. While the sort of lithium-ion batteries used by his scooter to pose a potential fire hazard, global standards reportedly issued by the International Air Transport Association permit those with disabilities to fly with them.
“They’re taking my legs — and not only that, my dignity,” Hodge said, adding that he can’t wear a prosthetic leg for very long because of discomfort and risk of infection.
Thus, he was forced to get around like this throughout his vacation:
“Having to crawl across the floor in front of my wife is the most humiliating thing that I can think of,” he said. “It unmasks how real my disability is … I haven’t been the same since.”
It didn’t help that the airport officials who hassled him had no empathy for his condition.
“I still remember the CATSA agent saying, ‘Well, you could get a wheelchair,'” he explained. “How’s a one-armed guy going to run a wheelchair? How am I going to go down a ramp and brake with one hand? But that shouldn’t even have to come up.”
No, it shouldn’t.
United Airlines has for its part offered Hodge and his wife a $800 travel certificate, but he doesn’t appear to be interested. Instead, he’s reportedly hired an attorney and is pushing for his case to be heard before the Canadian Human Rights Commission — and rightly so.
He noted to the CBC that he’s only experienced problems in Canada.
“I have flown through Europe, the United States and Mexico since 2015 with these batteries and have never been detained or harassed because of them. It is only in Canada that I have been relentlessly detained,” he said, adding that he was also hassled by another airline on Nov. 27, 2016.
“When I go through the checkpoint, I’m starting to vibrate now. I don’t know what I’m going to get. It’s like playing Russian roulette,” he added in exasperation.
Does he have a case, though? It appears so.
“This is an assault on a person’s dignity,” Terrance Green of the high-powered, 43-year-old Council for Canadians with Disabilities said to the CBC. “In 1979, the government of the day said, ‘Yes, we will make our transportation system accessible.’ Here we are … 40 years later and the same barriers are there in transportation for Canadians with disabilities.”
He added that he receives “a lot of emails and telephone calls” from men and women like Hodge who’ve been hassled at airports throughout Canada. “It happens very, very frequently. You put in complaints, the first thing that happens is the airlines deny.”
In a statement to USA Today, a United Airlines spokesperson said the airline was investigating Hodge’s complaint but couldn’t remark publicly in detail because of pending litigation.
“That said, the experience described falls far short of our own high standard of caring for our customers. We are proud of the many steps we have taken over the past few years to exhibit more care for our customers and we are proud to operate an airline that doesn’t just include people with disabilities but welcomes them as customers,” the spokesperson said.
This isn’t the first time United Airlines has been under fire for mistreating disabled people:
— justice4daniel (@justice4daniel) April 13, 2017
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) January 8, 2016
— Global Grind (@GlobalGrind) October 29, 2015
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz doesn’t appear to be too concerned, though. Speaking with ABC News just last week, he claimed that shrinking seats and spotty WiFi service are making it difficult for his airline to retain passenger loyalty. That and the stress of daily life.
“It’s become so stressful, from when you leave, wherever you live, to get into traffic, to find a parking spot, to get through security. By the time you sit on one of our aircraft … you’re just pissed at the world,” he complained.
You know what else pisses people off? When airlines mistreat their disabled customers …
In an exclusive for @ABC, @United CEO Oscar Munoz tells me that shrinking seats and spotty wifi service are making it hard to gain passenger loyalty. “Frankly,” Munoz said, “by the time you sit on one of our aircraft…you’re just pissed at the world.” pic.twitter.com/7jRbbxWLor
— David Kerley (@David_Kerley) April 23, 2019
Despite the costs associated with pursuing a case with the Canadian Human Rights Commission — Hodge was reportedly forced to sell a cherished Corvette — he intends to stick with his plan.
“The thing I would love more than the compensation is the [legal] decision that someone can go to and say, ‘You did it here, you can do it for me,'” he said.
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