- A disabled Air Canada passenger was hit in the head by a lift and had her ventilator disconnected.
- Undercover cameras documented a fraught journey with "terrifying" moments for the passenger.
- Canada's transport minister summoned the airline to a meeting in an apparent response to the report.
An undercover investigation has documented a disabled Air Canada's nightmare journey, including the moment her ventilator got disconnected and a lift hit her on the head.
Alessia Di Virgilio allowed Canadian news outlet CBC to document her journey with the airline from Toronto to Charlottetown, using hidden cameras.
Di Virgilio uses a specialized powered wheelchair and a ventilator, and cannot sit up without support, per the outlet. She traveled with a support person.
On the day of her flight, Di Virgilio had to request to be boarded ahead of first-class passengers, who were called before her, the outlet documented.
Staff used a lift to move her from her wheelchair to her seat, because the Canadian Transportation Agency insists on passengers being seated in airline chairs. "Watching me in my most vulnerable state … it's undignified to have to show myself in front of all these people," she told airline staff.
Problems only worsened on the flight home from Charlottetown, where there was no lift available.
Instead, five staff members transferred her, in the rain, into a specialized narrow wheelchair. During the operation, CBC's cameras captured her breathing tube becoming disconnected, one of several times that happened, the outlet said.
And when Di Virgilio landed in Toronto, the footage shows that staff seemed at a loss as to how to use the lift, resulting in it tipping over and hitting her head.
"Sorry, I haven't used this machine in probably seven years," one of the airline staff is heard saying.
"To say the word terrifying just doesn't fully capture how you feel," Di Virgilio told the outlet.
Di Virgilio is the second disabled person in a matter of weeks to complain about egregious treatment by Air Canada.
The airline apologized and offered him a $2,000 Canadian ($1,480 US) voucher.
Di Virgilio said she also had to navigate a huge amount of bureaucracy long before the day she traveled, according to CBC.
This included getting her healthcare provider to fill out a "Fitness for Air Travel" form — which she supplied a week in advance, the outlet reported. And at the last minute, she was asked for clearance from a respirologist — something she had to scramble to organize.
Di Virgilio also had to limit her liquid intake and took special medicine to limit bowel movements days ahead of time, because there would be no way for her to access the bathroom during the flight.
"People don't realize the type of physical and emotional toll that it puts on us even though we pay the same airfare as someone who doesn't need to go through that," she told the outlet.
Two days after CBC published its report, Canada's transport minister, Pablo Rodriguez, wrote in an apparent response on X that he and the country's minister for inclusion had summoned the airline "to discuss the unacceptable incidents."
Air Canada's Accessibility Services page promises to "Promote a culture of respect and dignity" with all customers.
The airline did not immediately respond to Insider's out-of-hours request for comment, and declined to comment specifically on Di Virgilio's case to CBC.
However, it said it had reached out to her to apologize.
It added: "The vast, vast majority of customers with mobility needs travelled without issue and in those relatively rare instances where barriers were encountered, we moved quickly to address concerns."