Disabled passenger seeks damages after he says United Airlines, airport took away his scooter

Disabled passenger seeks damages after he says United Airlines, airport took away his scooter
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A Canadian amputee claimed officials at a Calgary airport took the batteries for his scooter and is seeking to present his case before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported this week.

Stearn Hodge says he was told to fly without the $2,000 lithium battery powering his scooter as well as his backup battery on a Feb. 26, 2017, flight to Tulsa, Okla., from Calgary International Airport. A Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) agent and a United Airlines official told him they needed to confiscate the batteries due to safety concerns, according to CBC.

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In May, Hodge’s attorney asked a federal judge to compel the Canadian Human Rights Commission to review the case. Last September the matter was referred to the Canadian Transportation Authority, which has no power to award damages, according to the CBC.

"We are looking into the allegations, and because of the pending litigation, we are unable to provide further comment," a United Airlines spokesperson told The Hill. "That said, the experience described falls far short of our own high standard of caring for our customers."

Hodge lost his left arm and right leg more than 30 years ago. While he can wear a prosthetic leg, he typically uses a scooter powered by lithium batteries due to the risk of infection from long-term use of the prosthetic, according to the CBC.  

While the batteries are a potential fire hazard, International Air Transport Association (IATA) standards allow disabled people to travel with compact batteries for medical devices.

Hodge told the outlet the two officials ignored his citations of IATA documents and the prior permission he had received from the airline to carry the batteries on the plane, according to CBC.

"I still remember the CATSA agent saying, 'Well, you could get a wheelchair.' How's a one-armed guy going to run a wheelchair?" Hodge said. "How am I going to go down a ramp and brake with one hand? But that shouldn't even have to come up."

An airline complaint resolution official reportedly wrote in an email to Hodge that there appeared to be a violation of federal disability requirements in his case, offering Hodge and his wife an $800 travel certificate, according to CBC. They also apologized for the "inconvenience," the outlet reported. 

CATSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

--Updated at 10:27 a.m.