An amputee was forced to crawl on his belly during what should have been a romantic anniversary trip with his wife, all because an airline confiscated the batteries for his electric scooter.
68-year-old Stearn Hodge lost his left arm and right leg during a workplace accident in 1984. He has since been able to retain his independence through the use of his electric scooter.
As he and his wife Jan were preparing to board a flight to Tulsa, Oklahoma from Calgary Airport, Canada, airport officials removed the $2,000 lithium battery which powered Stearn’s scooter – as well as the replacement battery – before allowing the couple to board.
Stearn had secured all the necessary permits, however Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and a United Airlines official claimed the batteries were taken away due to ‘safety concerns’.
Without the use of his scooter, Stearn spent most of the holiday in bed, and was forced to crawl on his belly whenever he needed to access the bathroom.
Speaking with CBC, Stearn described the experience as ‘humiliating’:
Having to crawl across the floor in front of my wife is the most humiliating thing that I can think of.
It unmasks how real my disability is … I haven’t been the same since.
An anniversary is supposed to be all about remembering how you fell in love … and keeping that magic alive.
And those things were denied. I’m crawling across the floor and it is pathetic.
Lithium-ion batteries are considered to be a potential fire hazard. However, global standards as issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) permit those with disabilities to fly with compact lithium batteries for medical devices in their carry-on luggage.
Stearn had already secured the required written permission from the airline. However, he claims officials did not listen to or read this approval, or his supporting IATA documents.
Stearn told CBC how an official told him to get a wheelchair instead, something which Stearn – who has one arm – wouldn’t be able to use. His wife Jan has recently undergone treatment for cancer, which affected her spine. This meant she too would be unable to push a wheelchair.
Terrance Green, from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, told CBC:
It’s been a long fight to make sure that mobility devices — or any device used to accommodate a person with a disability — can be carried on [a plane].
When security can — even with regulations in place — seize what otherwise should be able to go onto the aircraft, that leaves people with disabilities very vulnerable.
A United Airlines complaint resolution official reportedly sent Stearn an email reading, ‘it appears we were in violation of federal disability requirements’. They have offered him an $800 travel voucher and have also given an apology for the ‘inconvenience’ caused.
Stearn now wants his case to be heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. On May 9, his lawyer, John Burns, will ask Federal Court judge to compel the commission to hear this case.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.