December 29, 2016
Sometimes someone in the community for which you and/or the newspaper you are working for with a story that they believe should be told.
On most newspapers, whether big or small, the publisher often weighs whether advertising from the company that might be involved is more important than allowing an article of the investigative journalism variety to see the light of day.
The people who wanted to speak through the media won the day in this case.
Certainly this does not always happen.
The following is the story:
Gulf Islands Driftwood
Wednesday,May 24, 2000
Disabled senior refuses flight by seaplane company
by Tanya Lester
Joan Jewell, 77, and her 75 year old brother Alan Telford would have gladly concurred with Pacific Spirit Air’s rules one day last week.
All they wish is that someone had told them ahead of time they could not fly in one of the company’s float planes if they could not board without assistance.
Instead, what they fully expected to be a 20-minute flight back to Salt Spring Island turned into a four-hour travelling ordeal.
It could have been disastrous without help from B.C. Ferries staff and others in the travel industry.
The story began when Jewell bought reserved tickets several months ago on Pacific Spirit Air in anticipation of Telford’s arrival from Scotland last week.
Jewell said that when booking tickets with agent Graham Ireland, she told him she has a heart condition and her brother has had strokes.
She said Ireland told her that would not hinder them from taking the float plane.
Jewell had no problem flying from Salt Spring to Vancouver last Sunday. A plank was used to aid her onto the plane.
The mood shifted last Monday after Telford’s 11-hour flight from Glasgow. Jewell met him at Vancouver International Airport and the two proceeded to the float plane terminal.
It was there that pilot Grey Messner refused to assist Telford, who walks with a cane, explaining that he could lose his licence helping someone onto the craft. He added that it is against rules to take anyone onto a plane who is not capable of getting out of it unassisted if it crashed.
Jewell was “ready to burst into tears” in reaction to these “snarky” comments. “It made us feel we were second-class citizens,” she said. Brother and sister believe they were discriminated against on the basis of age.
“The Pacific was there but I’m afraid the spirit wasn’t,” said Telford, who is a return visitor to the country. “This is the first time I’ve been refused anything in Canada.”
Messner stands by his decision to prevent them from travelling on the airplane. “There’s laws that govern who can travel on planes,” he said. “He (Telford) couldn’t stand on his own.”
messner said he would be putting his license on the line if he had assisted Telford, who he said is a big man who has sustained three heart attacks.
The pilot also said if Telford slipped getting onto the plane, which can be unsteady due to swells in the ocean water, the passenger could have a case to make the pilot pay medical bills.
Ireland claimed that jewell had not told him upon booking the flight that she and her brother have medical problems. He said he would have put that information in his reservations computer if he had been told.
Peter Evans, operations manager of Harbour Air, said the issue of who to allow on board a float plane is a difficult one and can relate to equal opportunity for the disabled.
Evans feels the Pacific Spirit Air pilot misinterpreted the laws around licensing. Legally, he said, no one can be refused transport on a float plane.
He said Harbour Air policy is to explain to potential customers who indicate medical and/or physical problems that they may get “manhandled” in the process of getting on the plane, and other possible scenarios.
He added that pilots are trained to handle these situations.
All other planes are accessible for the disabled, said Evans, but float planes are an exception because the water surface cannot be controlled.
The silver lining to the cloud Jewell and Telford found themselves under was the assitance they got from everyone involved in the alternate plans they had to make to get to Salt Spring by ferry.
They are very thankful to personnel at the Delta Hotel, the Pacific Coach Lines bus and B.C. Ferries for smoothing the path home for them.
Jewell would like an apology from Pacific Spirit Air and wants company staff to tell customers its rules around refusing transport on its planes when resevations are being booked.
The Jewell family wish to see her reimbursed for her cab and ferry expenses.
The Salt Spring senior hopes her story in print will raise a red flag for others. “I just want to warn people that this can happen,” she said.
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Tanya’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader, Friends I Never Knew (both can be purchased from amazon.com or from the author) as well as Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes.
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