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Blind Sask. curler says WestJet left him in the lurch after flight cancellation


A blind Saskatoon man is speaking out about a lack of accessibility services offered to him and a group of blind curlers by West Jet while at the Saskatoon airport.

Robin East was going on a flight to Edmonton last week with a group of curlers heading to a bonspiel and because of a mechanical delay initially, they wound up being stuck in the Saskatoon airport for 12 hours. Despite booking tickets specifically requesting assistance for blind travelers, he says West Jet offered little help or support for the group.

East said his group had no problem checking in or getting through security, but that’s when their problems started.

“We get to the gate and we’re sitting around waiting and waiting. We were told by other people (not West Jet agents) that it was delayed, and it was quite some time until we had a West Jet person come tell us it was delayed,” East told CTV News.

The 9:30 a.m. flight was booked through a bonspiel travel agent, East said. Eight blind curlers — many flying alone for the first time.

Their excitement soon turned into uncertainty and frustration.

“They were cancelling the flight and we needed to go on a flight at 6:40 in the evening,” he said.

While waiting in seats near the gate, East said that no one showed the group where the restrooms or other services were. They got a meal voucher for $15 which they discovered didn’t cover most meals at the restaurant which they had to walk to on their own without anyone from West Jet guiding them.

East flies a lot for work, with his guide dog Lumos, and doesn’t recall this happening before.

A meeting with a West Jet supervisor didn’t help matters.

“They were being very abrupt and rude to me and not getting me the information I was asking about,” he said.

He asked the supervisor for her name, and she dismissed his request.

In a statement emailed to CTV News, a WestJet spokesperson said the airline offers assistance on board their aircraft, but between security and boarding, it’s not their responsibility.

WestJet says this is outlined on the company’s website.

For its part, the Saskatoon airport says it offers accessible curbside zones with signage indicating contact information for customers who need assistance or guidance to and from the terminal.

The WestJet baggage check station at the Saskatoon airport. (Chad Hills / CTV Saskatoon)

A passenger rights advocate tells CTV News the group of blind curlers has every right to demand better treatment from WestJet, as airlines are often allowed to get away with poor customer service.

“They feel there won’t be any be any consequences for treating passengers this way. If there is proper enforcement, if there are consequences and I’m talking $100,000 or more per incident, airlines are suddenly going to see the light and realize they need to treat passengers with disabilities with respect,” said Gábor Lukács, president of advocacy group Air Passenger Rights.

Lukacs suggests going to federal government officials like MP’s and opposition members with complaints because they are the ones that can legislate changes to air travel in the country.

That is what East is planning — in addition to asking the Council of Canadians with Disabilities to look into it, because the council has a seat on the Transportation Advisory Committee.

East says he’ll also ask the Western Bonspiel organizers to add their voice to the call.

East said he doesn’t want any money from this, but wants to see meaningful change for those with disabilities to ensure services are guaranteed in cases like this.

“I don’t want any money. I want systemic change, and to have accommodations in place and be treated with dignity and respect.”

He also wants to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

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