Hello, Air Canada are you listening?
If I’m the lucky winner of the Super 7 jackpot next week, I know what I’ll do with the cash. I’ll buy a jet and hire a pilot.
I’ve been traveling a lot this fall and I don’t like it. I like the arthritis advocacy work that takes me to conferences and workshop, but I don’t like the travel. My colleagues don’t like it either. First and foremost “Economy Class” when applied to the comfort and service on Air Canada flights is an oxymoron. (It used to be called Hospitality Class but, well, you can understand why Air Canada had to change the name.) Economy class travelers are packed into seats like sardines in a Millionaire tin. There’s no wiggle room. The seat pitch (the distance from one row of seats to the next row) has been reduced and the legroom is compromised. Add to that trimmed-down seat widths with a limited recline and you have discomfort. On flights over six hours in duration, you could have blood clots.
A 2001 federal government study showed that 27% of adults with disabilities are prevented from traveling long distances because of various factors, including a ride that aggravates a health condition, trouble navigating the terminals, procedures and equipment for boarding and disembarking, seating arrangements and ticket costs.
Government regulations mandate Air Canada to accommodate people with disabilities that the corporation abides by providing assistance in:
- registering at the check-in counter
- proceeding to the boarding area
- proceeding to the general public area on arrival
- boarding and deplaning
- stowing and retrieving luggage and mobility aids
On request Air Canada staff will make periodic inquiries about our needs and attend to them by assisting us moving to and from the aircraft washroom. They will stow wheelchairs, walkers, canes etc. and permit “service animals” on board. I commend them for their attention to the needs of the disabled but what about seniors and people like me? It seems that our needs have dropped through the gaps in service. We have physical limitations but consider ourselves independent until we board the aircraft. Air Canada, we discover, is rife with systemic barriers that challenge our independence. We are dependent on someone else to heft a bag into the overhead bin, our seat mate to reach the carry-on luggage we stowed under the seat in front of us or pick up the book that’s fallen from our laps; we can’t reach the comfort and entertainment controls on our armrest with our right hand because we need more space to maneuver; and we can’t open anything that comes in a sealed package. Air Canada says that assistance is available to seniors and persons with limitations but we need to “self-identify” ourselves. What a blow to our self-esteem. What a burden on the in-cabin crew. What a total inconvenience.
The transportation and hospitality industries (we are after all, traveling to conferences and staying and eating in hotels) need to consider their markets when they are projecting growth and market share. They need to keep and attract customers to generate profit. And that means addressing the needs of seniors and people with limitations. According to a 2006 report by the Premier’s Council on Aging and Seniors in British Columbia, one quarter of the BC population, 1.3 million people – double the number today - will be over 65 within 25 years. Many of these seniors will develop arthritis and will have the same difficulties my colleagues and I are having now. It’s time to look past the wheelchair to those who want and need access not assistance. It’s time to remove the barriers to full participation for everyone’s comfort, because – let's face it! - the odds of any of us winning the jackpot are one in 14 million.