A recent WestJet passenger is speaking out about a recent experience involving travelling with a wheelchair.
Melanie Carlbeck lives with spina bifida but that hasn’t stopped her and her sister from seeing the world together. They’ve been to Rome, London, Egypt, New York, Barcelona and elsewhere.
The sisters recently flew on WestJet to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to visit their brother.
However, Melanie’s wheelchair never made it on board. She said the airline offered her another wheelchair but it was completely unsuitable and old.
“I couldn’t get in and out of bed,” She said. “My brother had to come in and lift me in and out of bed. Managing in a washroom was really hard. We had to make a number of improvisations.
“It was very hard.”
Melanie said it was even difficult to wash her hands and maneuver the chair.
“It was extremely frustrating,” she added.
Her sister Dianne was able to talk to WestJet staff and have Melanie’s wheelchair transported to Cabo, but it took days to actually arrive.
“We had taken all the precautions,” she said. “We had registered it. I always make sure the tag goes on the front. We, Diane, had said to them, to make sure that the chair goes on the plane.”
When it was time to go home, Melanie and Dianne said they made sure to have numerous conversations about how the wheelchair needed to get on the flight with them and while it did, it arrived in Vancouver damaged.
The arm of the wheelchair had been pulled out of place and Melanie can still use it, but she is frustrated about the entire experience.
In a statement to Global News, WestJet said it sincerely apologizes for the sisters’ experience.
“The Vancouver airport was able to locate the wheelchair on Oct. 31 and forwarded it to Ms. Carlbeck on the first flight to Los Cabos on Nov. 1,” the company said.
“It was reported that the local courier was having issues with delivery, which is why the wheelchair did not get to the guest until Nov. 2. I can confirm that Ms. Carlbeck was given the option to receive a temporary replacement, however, she declined a rental wheelchair from WestJet as she felt it would not be comparable to her own unit.
“WestJet takes the transportation of mobility devices such as wheelchairs extremely seriously and we sincerely apologize that Ms. Carlbeck’s experience did not reflect this.”
Dianne told Global News that she felt they had done everything they could to prepare WestJet for the fact that they would be travelling with a wheelchair.
“We don’t need reimbursement,” she said. “Really. That is not the objective at all. It’s just that (experience) really was hard on (Melanie). Really hard on her. And if we can make any kind of difference, that will be great.”
Transport Canada told Global News Canadians with disabilities have received unacceptable treatment when travelling by air.
In 2019, the federal government adopted the Accessible Canada Act for a barrier-free Canada and introduced regulations requiring airlines, rail companies and ferries to have accessibility plans and establish minimum standards of care.
However, Transport Canada said more needs to be done.
“Following their meeting with Air Canada, Minister Rodriguez and Minister Khera will be meeting with WestJet and other major airlines to review their accessibility plans,” the office said in a statement.
“All Canadians must be treated with dignity and respect. Full stop.“
Melanie said she wanted to talk about her experience because there seems to be a disconnect between airline staff and dealing with people with disabilities.
“The policy is broken apart,” she said. “If there was one. It needs to be some sort of training or a policy that is automatic that, you know, when somebody shows up in a chair, they know what to do and have the personnel to deal with it.”
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