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Travel blogger highlights ‘terrifying’ wheelchair ordeal



Tori Hunter, being carried down the stairs, from the plane in Costa Rica

A Canadian travel blogger is speaking out on the barriers to flying for wheelchair users after a “terrifying” ordeal being carried off a plane.

Tori Hunter, 26, posted a video of her disembarking the flight with the help of staff at an airport in Costa Rica.

She seemed visibly distressed while being precariously carried down the steps in an aisle wheelchair.

Passengers are unable to bring their own wheelchairs on to the main cabin of aircraft for safety reasons.

There was no aircraft bridge so all the passengers had to depart on steps.

Ms Hunter has very little neck movement, and uses an electric wheelchair, due to a neuromuscular condition called spinal muscular atrophy.

The creator and blogger from Toronto has documented her travels around the world.

But during her experience getting off the plane in Costa Rica this month, she felt she was in danger.

“I hope this process is something I never have to experience again, I love travelling and I’ll never let it stop me from experiencing the world.”

Tori Hunter Tori Hunter on a sunny day in Florida.Tori Hunter

In the future, Tori wants more communication between airlines and airports

In an ideal world, she told the BBC, airplanes would be fully accessible by allowing people to stay in their wheelchairs and therefore avoiding any unsafe transfers to and from the aircraft.

Rights on Flights, a global initiative that aims to achieve accessible air travel for all, say that this is happening “all too often.”

“We are sad and frustrated to see yet another bad experience for disabled passengers when travelling by plane. It’s very visible how uncomfortable and fearful Tori is feeling getting off of the flight.”

Usually wheelchairs are recovered from the hold and used to take the owner from the aircraft into the terminal via a bridge.

When Ms Hunter landed in Liberia, she said she was carried off the flight in an aisle wheelchair which was inadequately equipped.

It had “no armrests, straps that wouldn’t tighten enough to keep my body in, and front wheels that were busted off”.

In the video posted on Instagram she said that she was “distraught and absolutely terrified”.

Staff tried to do their best but it was a harrowing experience. Her father had to hold her head to prevent an injury.

Ms Hunter said she had provided information about her situation, several months in advance.

“If the airline and the airport had more open lines of communication, then they could have ensured that we were parked at a jet bridge or that a ramp or hydraulic lift was available.”

A statement from Air Canada – which operated the flight – said the airport was unable to provide an aircraft bridge so they had to use an alternative method.

All protocols for helping customers with disabilities were followed, it said.

“However, as part of our accessibility plan, we will be reviewing airport procedures, including for smaller foreign stations, with the aim of working with local airport and other partners to find ways to provide more consistent service.”

One of the most common complaints for wheelchair users about travelling is about the transfer on and off planes.

Another is the way wheelchairs are treated when kept in the hold.

The US Department of Transportation stated that 11,527 wheelchairs were damaged or lost in 2023.

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