An amputee who was on his anniversary vacation for three weeks was forced to drag his body across the floor because an airline had confiscated his electric scooter batteries.
Stearn Hodge lives life without a left arm and a right leg. They were lost during a workplace accident in 1984 but thanks to the use of an electric scooter, he has maintained the majority of his independence.
He and his wife were flying to Tulsa, Oklahoma to celebrate their 43rd wedding anniversary. A $2000 lithium battery was removed from his scooter by a security guard. The replacement battery was also confiscated.
An official at Calgary International Airport, Canada as well as a Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority agent both discussed safety concerns over lithium batteries. According to Hodge, he was given prior approval by the airline to bring the batteries on board.
All of the necessary permits were secured by the 68-year-old man but no one from United Airlines or CATSA would listen to him. They also refused to read the IATA documents that had been printed out as confirmation that he had permission.
The majority of his 3-week anniversary holiday was spent in bed because he could not move around without his scooter. When he needed to use the bathroom, he would have to crawl on his belly to get there.
He said that the airport officials had done more than taking away his legs. They also took away his dignity.
“Having to crawl across the floor in front of my wife is the most humiliating thing that I can think of,” he said. “It unmasks how real my disability is … I haven’t been the same since.”
He continued: “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.”
Allegedly, a CATSA agent told them that it wasn’t a big deal when they took away his scooter because he could use a wheelchair instead.
Hodge is only able to wear a prosthetic leg for a limited amount of time because of the risk of infection and due to discomfort. He also only has one arm.
“I still remember the CATSA agent saying, ‘Well, you could get a wheelchair.’ How’s a one-armed guy going to run a wheelchair?” asked Hodge. “How am I going to go down a ramp and brake with one hand? But that shouldn’t even have to come up.”
In addition, his wife had recently gone through cancer treatment that had an effect on her spine. She would not have been able to push the wheelchair for her husband.
A complaint resolution official from United Airlines refused to comment on the case. It seems, however, that they did send Stearn an email, stating: “It appears we were in violation of federal disability requirements.”
An apology has been offered for the ‘inconvenience’ and they also offered an $800 travel voucher. Stearn, who ran into a similar problem a few months earlier will not accept their apology.
“Inconvenience is when it rains on your holiday,” he told CBC. “This was a … life-changing moment for me and my wife.”
He now wants his case to go before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. On May 9, his lawyer will ask a federal court judge to compel the commission to hear the case.