On his way home from a work conference where he was speaking about barriers for people with disabilities, Tim Kubash did not expect to be prevented from boarding his flight due to his wheelchair battery.
Kubash has worked as a golf course superintendent for over 35 years. A year-and-a-half ago, he suffered a broken neck in a tractor incident and is now a wheelchair user.
“I gave a talk on, I called it barriers, barriers to being in a wheelchair and segued into barriers of golf course situations,” Kubash said. “So I find it quite interesting that this was a barrier imposed on me by WestJet not being able to go on the flight.”
He thought he had covered all his bases for his trip to Victoria to ensure WestJet was prepared to accommodate him on the flight. He says he spoke with the airline three times beforehand to let them know he is a wheelchair user.
The first point he realized something might be wrong was upon checking in at Victoria International Airport for his flight to Kelowna on Saturday.
“I went up to the counter and they had no record of me being in a wheelchair,” Kubash said in an interview with CHEK News. “That caused an issue, so it was basically left down to the pilot to decide whether or not I’d be able to board based on the batteries in my wheelchair.”
Kubash says the type of battery in his wheelchair is a gel cell battery, which is Federal Aviation Administration-approved as safe for flying.
“The pilot wanted the battery removed which would entail removing the seat and removing cowling and something that, I’ve never done it,” Kubash said. “It would require a technician from the wheelchair company to do this work.”
After WestJet employees tried to look up the type of battery in Kubash’s wheelchair in their system, he was let down to the tarmac, ready to board the plane.
That’s when the decision was made that he would not be allowed to get on the flight.
BOARDING DENIED!!! https://t.co/k3Q3b3QxRx
— Tim Kubash (@TimKubashGroup) December 3, 2022
“There was three or four people that went to the computer to check on things and I was actually allowed to go right up to the ramp to go in,” Kubash said. “That’s when one of the individuals with WestJet came up to me and says ‘yeah, you may not be flying today. The pilot has an issue with your batteries.'”
Kubash says he has been in touch with WestJet, who has apologized and offered to pay for his accommodation.
In a statement to CHEK News, Morgan Bell, manager of media and public relations with WestJet reiterated the apology.
“We sincerely apologize to Mr. Kubash and take full accountability for the error and subsequent disruption to his travel plans that happened at the time of boarding due to confusion pertaining to the type of battery he was travelling with,” Bell said in the statement.
The company says information about batteries is typically collected at check-in or prior to boarding, but the airport team in Victoria missed it.
“While typically this type of situation is rectified promptly, unfortunately the system our airport team uses to verify dangerous goods information (which includes batteries) wasn’t operating correctly and they were unable to confidently verify acceptance of the battery type in time for departure,” Bell says.
“It was solely for safety reasons and out of an abundance of caution that the operating crew was not comfortable accepting the wheelchair without the proper battery verification and the flight was fully boarded.”
Bell says the company intends to reimburse Kubash for his meals, transportation and accommodation for the extra night he spent in Victoria.
Kubash was able to board a flight home the next day, but he said he was nervous about it. Fortunately, there were no issues.
Finally arrived. Home sweet home. https://t.co/5fFjLz6THj
— Tim Kubash (@TimKubashGroup) December 4, 2022