CALGARY — A Canadian amputee is petitioning to have his case heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission after officials at a Calgary airport confiscated the batteries needed to power his portable scooter, according to CNN affiliate CBC.
Stearn Hodge lost his left arm and right leg in a workplace accident in 1984 and uses a scooter powered by lithium batteries to get around. He can wear a prosthetic leg, but not for long because of the risk of infection, according to the outlet.
In 2017, Hodge was traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his wife for their 43rd wedding anniversary when a security agent at the Calgary International Airport and a representative from United Airlines told him it was unsafe to fly with his scooter’s $2,000 battery and its spare.
Hodge was prepared and presented documents he’d printed from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), that said that while there is a risk of fire hazard with Lithium-ion batteries, the association’s global standards make exceptions for the medical devices of travelers with disabilities if the airlines gives prior approval, the outlet reported.
He had that approval, he told CBC.
But Hodge told the network that no one would listen to him or read the documents.
“I still remember the CATSA agent saying, ‘Well, you could get a wheelchair.’ How’s a one-armed guy going to run a wheelchair?” Hodge told the outlet. “How am I going to go down a ramp and brake with one hand? But that shouldn’t even have to come up.”
The Canadian Air Transit Security Authority declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
When Hodge asked a United Airlines representative to confirm for security that he had gotten permission to bring the batteries on board, CBC reported, the agent sided with security.
Airline: Experience ‘falls far short of our own high standard’
“We are looking into the allegations, and because of the pending litigation, we are unable to provide further comment,” Andrea Hiller, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, told CNN. “That said, the experience described falls far short of our own high standard of caring for our customers. We are proud of the many steps we have taken over the past few years to exhibit more care for our customers and we are proud to operate an airline that doesn’t just include people with disabilities but welcomes them as customers.”
Without the batteries to power his scooter, Hodge told CBC he spent much of his three-week vacation confined to his bed and was left to crawl when he needed to get around.
“An anniversary is supposed to be all about remembering how you fell in love … and keeping that magic alive,” he said, according to the network. “And those things were denied. I’m crawling across the floor and it is pathetic.”
On May 9, Hodge’s lawyer, John Burns, will ask a Federal Court judge to compel the Canadian Human Rights Commission to review the case.
The matter was previously presented to the commission, but last September it was was referred to the Canadian Transportation Authority, which has no power to award general damages, according to CBC.
The Canadian Human Rights Act allows for up to $20,000 in damages for each count of pain and suffering, and up to another $20,000 if the discrimination is “willful or reckless,” CBC reported.
“People with disabilities should be taken seriously. You don’t take away somebody’s legs and then describe it as an inconvenience. No, this is an injury,” Burns told CBC.