As they often say, all’s well that ends well but in this case, alas! This was not meant to be.
At the end of January 2019 I traveled to Britain and for the very first time in my traveling life I decided to travel via Air Transat. All of the appropriate arrangements were made, the appropriate requests and notifications were requested, and in turn the appropriate assurances were given by Air Transat that my needs as a vision impaired traveler would be accommodated and met.
They were met; from arrival at terminal 3 of Pearson Airport to landing in Britain, and from departure in Britain to arrival in Toronto. However, this is where the too good to be true fairy tale sadly ends.
After a long and exhausting trip home, and upon deplaning, I was told the following by the Air Transat agent.
I would have to sit in a wheelchair in order to be assisted and if I did not then I would have to follow the agent because they were unable to push a wheelchair while at the same time guide me. The agent went on to emphatically state that this was “the black and white policy of Air Transat.” I could take it or leave it was my immediate thought.
Here is where I became quite upset and stated that I was just sick and tired of being treated like this. I had specifically requested meet and assist services which included being able to take the arm of an agent and walk beside them. I stated that I was fully capable of walking and pulling my carry-on luggage and did not require or want a wheelchair.
The agent continued to state her position and fairly soon a shouting match ensued between her and me. At one point she told me not to raise my voice and in turn I told her that if she stopped arguing with me then I would do the same. I told her that I did not wish to be treated like luggage but as a Human Being.
The agent refused to back down telling me that they did not have enough staff to provide me with walking assistance but what struck me was that there were not many of us requiring assistance. So where was the shortage of staff then?
After a long and tiring journey I decided to sit in the wheelchair but not long after we started out the agent offered to let me get out of the wheelchair and take her arm. Along the way I again tried to explain my position to her and she told me that she understood my situation.
So after all of this, where do we go from here?
If one is hoping and seeking to engage in any sort of dialogue then I would respectfully say that based on my years of raising concerns and attempting to reach out and communicate, it is probably not going to happen any time soon and here is why.
There are 3 players involved here; the GTAA who is responsible for the creation of training documents that would provide guidelines to airlines and their service providers. They are also responsible for ensuring that their websites are accessible, usable, and navigable. Then we have the airlines who are responsible for hiring their own service providers. They are also responsible for ensuring that their own websites are usable, accessible, and navigable. Then finally we have the service providers themselves who are responsible for using the documents provided to train their staff.
Intermingled amongst this already very confusing picture is the blame game whereby each player as mentioned above blame each other for short falls and glaring gaps and if you try to complain or take anyone to court then best of luck!
There is one more piece to this puzzle; the GTAA hires service providers of their own and the agent that I encountered from Air Transat told me that she worked for a service provider called Global Aviation and that they were owned by ACAP which is a part of the GTAA.
Could the Canadian Transportation Agency help in any way to straighten out this maze? Not likely! Could the forthcoming Accessible Canada Act help to unclog this very confusing picture? I am extremely skeptical.
What it comes down to in my opinion is this! When it comes to parties being expected to provide special needs travelers with required services, the gap continues to widen. There are no mandatory guidelines to follow. At the present time there is no legislation to mandate parties. The CTA has no power to mandate anything; they are simply paper tigers who are perceived to be hesitant to confront the transportation industry. In short, the blind and vision impaired traveler is at the complete mercy of an impotent system.
Just my two cents for today.