An Ottawa-area woman who is both blind and deaf has launched a formal complaint against Air Canada after a difficult trip to Alberta last week that she says left her frightened and humiliated.
Christine 'Coco' Roschaert is a 33-year-old motivational speaker who has travelled the world to advocate for the rights of the deaf-blind community. She was born deaf and lost most of her sight in her late teens through a condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
Roschaert has taken more than 1,000 flights to 50 countries around the world for her speaking engagements. Those trips have included dozens of solo flights aboard Air Canada, in which she brought along only her white cane to guide her.
But the Air Canada flight she took last Friday from Ottawa to Edmonton traumatized her, she says.
Roschaert says she got through security and boarded her flight without a problem. But before takeoff, a manager with Air Canada walked up to her and told her she had to get off the plane.
“I thought I was being arrested for something, or that I was in trouble,” Roschaert told CTV Ottawa, speaking through her sign-language interpreter.
The Air Canada staffer told Roschaert she wasn’t allowed to travel alone without first receiving medical clearance.
Roschaert says she was stunned. “I've been traveling around the world so many times and this is the first time I've ever been kicked out of a plane,” she says.
Air Canada says it has long had a policy that those with severe hearing and vision impairments travel with an attendant, as such conditions would make it difficult for them to understand safety instructions from flight personnel. Those who want to travel without an attendant need to obtain medical approval from the airline ahead of time.
In a statement, the airline said: “Air Canada can carry a passenger who is deaf and blind without an attendant if it's determined that passenger has sufficient hearing or vision to understand safety instructions during all critical phases of the flight."
Roschaert says she has never encountered this policy, despite flying with Air Canada hundreds of times.
She also says what happened next made no sense to her.
Roschaert says she was put on a flight to Edmonton and then transferred to a flight to Calgary. Throughout the trip, she says she was guided by people who were clearly untrained to guide blind people.
"There was no communication, I had no idea what was going on. I felt quite scared, to be honest,” she said.
Roschaert posted the letter she wrote to Air Canada headquarters on her blog. It reads: “Never have I been ashamed to fly on Air Canada or humiliated as a person or felt so mistreated as a deaf-blind person.”
She added: “Until this matter is resolved and policy is changed, and staff / assistance heighten their sensitivity training for persons with disabilities, I will refrain from travelling on Air Canada and its fleet.”
Roschaert tells CTV Ottawa that despite her humiliating experience, she'll continue to travel alone. She also says she has yet to receive a response from Air Canada and is looking into legal action.
As for her next Air Canada flight, Roschaert has already cancelled it and plans to travel with WestJet instead.
With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Joanne Schnurr