Hello there and welcome to our newest segment: Where we highlight important
articles on topics pertaining to advocacy.
We are introducing this segment based on several requests that we have
received from readers.
Please feel free to send us your feedback and if you wish us to publish your
own articles then by all means send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please take a moment to subscribe to our newest newsletter:
‘Let’s Talk Tips’ is your monthly resource for the most current and reliable
informational tips available in the areas of Technology, Nutrition, Media,
Business, and Advocacy.
With best wishes
From the business desk team
Follow us on Twitter @accessibleworld
CBC coverage of Hodge case
“I had to crawl’: Amputee seeks damages after United Airlines and airport
security seize scooter batteries
A B.C. man says airline officials and airport security agents were violating
the law when they seized the lithium batteries he needed to operate a
portable scooter. Now he’s fighting to take his case to the Canadian Human
CBC News, Apr. 28, 2019
Stearn Hodge says he’s ‘had enough’ of airport security agents and airlines
trying to take away the batteries for his portable scooter – a disability
violation. He’s fighting to take United Airlines, WestJet and the Canadian
Air Transport Security Authority to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Stearn Hodge says he will never forget the humiliation of having to drag his
body across a hotel room floor during what was supposed to be a vacation
celebrating his 43rd wedding anniversary – because a security agent at the
Calgary International Airport and United Airlines confiscated the batteries
he needed to operate a portable scooter.
“Having to crawl across the floor in front of my wife is the most
humiliating thing that I can think of,” said Hodge. “It unmasks how real my
disability is . I haven’t been the same since.”
The 68-year-old retired contractor from Kelowna, B.C., lost his left arm and
right leg in a 1984 workplace accident. He now relies on a portable scooter
powered by lithium batteries.
But on a trip to Tulsa, Okla., on Feb. 26, 2017, an agent with the Canadian
Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and a United Airlines official told
Hodge to remove the $2,000 battery from his scooter and fly without it, as
well as his spare battery.
In making the demand, both employees cited safety concerns.
Lithium-ion batteries are a potential fire hazard, but
global standards issued by the International Air
Transport Association (IATA) allow people with disabilities to travel with
compact lithium batteries for medical devices in carry-on luggage.
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
“They’re taking my legs – and not only that, my dignity,” said Hodge.
He can only wear a prosthetic leg for a short period due to discomfort and
risk of infection, he said.
A few months earlier, Hodge almost had his batteries seized on a WestJet
flight. But “seconds” before takeoff – and after he suffered a panic attack
– Hodge was granted permission to take them on board.
He has now hired a lawyer and is fighting to have his case heard before the
Canadian Human Rights Commission.
A spokesperson for an Ottawa-based disability rights organization says it’s
“frustrating” that Canada’s airline industry seems to ignore hard-won
protections for people with disabilities.
“It’s been a long fight to make sure that mobility devices – or any device
used to accommodate a person with a disability – can be carried on [a
plane],” said Terrance Green, of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
“When security can – even with regulations in place – seize what otherwise
should be able to go onto the aircraft, that leaves people with disabilities
When the CATSA agent seized his batteries in Calgary, the employee suggested
it wasn’t a big deal, Hodge said.
“I still remember the CATSA agent saying, ‘Well, you could get a
wheelchair.’ How’s a one-armed guy going to run a wheelchair?” asked Hodge.
“How am I going to go down a ramp and brake with one hand? But that
shouldn’t even have to come up.”
Hodge’s wife had recently undergone cancer treatment, which affected her
spine, and she couldn’t push a wheelchair for her husband.
Hodge said he asked for an agent from United Airlines to come to the
security checkpoint, as he had called the airline earlier and was assured it
was OK to bring his battery and a spare on board.
Stearn Hodge, seen with his wife, Jan, says he has been hassled about his
batteries at the airport more than a dozen times over the past two years.
But the United Airlines employee that arrived sided with the security agent.
Consequently, a three-week trip that was supposed to be a celebration with
his wife resulted in Hodge spending much of his vacation confined to his
To perform basic personal hygiene, he was forced to drag himself across the
hotel room floor to the bathroom.
“An anniversary is supposed to be all about remembering how you fell in love
. and keeping that magic alive,” said Hodge. “And those things were denied.
I’m crawling across the floor and it is pathetic.”
A United Airlines spokesperson told Go Public that it couldn’t comment on
Hodge’s experience, as he wants his case heard by the Canadian Human Rights
In an email sent to Hodge by the airline, complaint resolution official
Tatricia Orija wrote that “it appears we were in violation of federal
disability requirements,” offering both Hodge and his wife an $800 travel
She also apologized for the “inconvenience.”
“Inconvenience is when it rains on your holiday,” said Hodge. “This was a .
life-changing moment for me and my wife.”
WestJet offers travel credit
Three months before the United incident, on Nov. 27, 2016, Hodge had also
run into battery problems while travelling to Cancun, Mexico.
In that case, a WestJet employee initially told him he could take the
batteries in a carry-on, but when he got to the security checkpoint, a CATSA
agent said the batteries had to be in checked luggage.
“According to federal airline law, that’s the worst place you want to put
them,” said Hodge. “Because if a problem develops with those batteries, they
don’t know where they are and they’re only going to find out about it when
it’s too late.”
Minutes before his departure, a WestJet employee was able to confirm that
the batteries could go on the plane.
In an email to Hodge, a WestJet customer support agent wrote: “While I
cannot change your past experience, I would like to offer you a $350 future
travel credit as a goodwill gesture.”
WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell told Go Public he couldn’t comment on the
case since it is before the courts but that “WestJet will always err on the
side of caution and supports the due diligence of its people evaluating any
items they believe may pose a safety concern.”
CATSA also wouldn’t address questions from Go Public, citing Hodge’s
The agency did provide Hodge with a transcript of a recorded call with
client service agent Justine Drouin, who apologizes to Hodge and says “all
of the screening officers will undergo a briefing.”
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, in charge of security
screening at airports across the country, told Hodge that it would update
standard operating procedures to ensure all agents are briefed on batteries
permitted on board flights.
‘It’s like playing Russian roulette’
Hodge and his wife travel at least once or twice a year and say the only
place they run into trouble with his scooter batteries is 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,” said Hodge.
He estimates it’s happened more than a dozen times in the past two years,
saying it now triggers severe anxiety.
“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.”
‘An assault on a person’s dignity’
Green, of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said while he’s
pleased there are protections in place for people with disabilities who are
travelling, those protections need to be enforced.
“This is an assault on a person’s dignity,” said Green, noting his
organization has been fighting over transportation issues for four decades.
“In 1979, the government of the day said, ‘Yes, we will make our
transportation system accessible,'” he said. “Here we are . 40 years later
and the same barriers are there in transportation for Canadians with
Green, who is visually impaired, said he has had security agents question
the battery in his laptop, which allows it to “talk” when it is turned on.
He said he receives “a lot of emails and telephone calls” from people with
disabilities who have been hassled at the airport.
“It happens very, very frequently,” said Green. “You put in complaints, the
first thing that happens is the airlines deny.”
Complaints to transportation agency
Go Public asked the Canadian Transportation Agency, which regulates air,
rail and marine travel, how often people have filed disability-related
complaints over the past three years.
A spokesperson said the agency has received 583 accessibility complaints
related to air travel during that time – with fewer than one per cent
related to batteries. And those numbers have steadily increased since 2016.
The majority of complaints related to the transport of mobility aids are
from passengers who have had expensive mobility devices – scooters and
wheelchairs – damaged.
Hearing in Federal Court
Last September, the Canadian Human Rights Commission referred Hodge’s
complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency. However, the agency has no
power to award general damages beyond out-of-pocket expenses.
On May 9, Hodge’s lawyer, John Burns, will ask a Federal Court judge to
compel the commission to hear the case.
“It’s a failure of the Canadian Human Rights Commission to grant access to
the remedy that the statute provides,” said Burns.
The Canadian Human Rights Act allows for up to $20,000 in damages for each
count of pain and suffering, and up to another $20,000 if the discrimination
is “willful or reckless.”
“It sends a very clear message to the airlines and everybody else involved,”
said Burns. “People with disabilities should be taken seriously. You don’t
take away somebody’s legs and then describe it as an inconvenience. No, this
is an injury.”
‘Human rights violations cannot go unchallenged’
Hodge is optimistic he’ll eventually have his day before the Canadian Human
It’s a pricey endeavour. In order to cover legal costs, he’s had to put up
for sale a cherished Corvette he has worked on for years. But it’s a fight
he says he has to have – not just for himself, but for so many others with
“The thing I would love more than the compensation,” said Hodge, “is the
[legal] decision that someone can go to and say, ‘You did it here, you can
do it for me.'”