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Salmon Arm man kept from boarding WestJet flight due to battery in wheelchair

Incident took place on International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Salmon Arm resident Tim Kubash said a lack of staffing contributed to him being prevented from boarding his WestJet flight home from Victoria on Dec. 3, 2022. (Tim Kubash/Facebook)

Future travel plans are up in the air for Tim Kubash after he was kept from boarding a WestJet flight, due to the battery in his wheelchair, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The Salmon Arm man has used a wheelchair since suffering a life-altering accident in May 2021 that resulted in damage to his vertebrae. He was recently in Victoria for the BC Golf Superintendents Association conference (Nov. 30 to Dec. 2), where he gave a presentation on barriers in the industry experienced by people with disabilities.

“So I gave a talk based on my incident and any related golf course scenarios where there’s perhaps barriers in golf greens,” said Kubash. “Rick Hansen told me when I met with him that perhaps it was my role now to break down any barriers in my industry to people with disabilities.”

On Saturday, Dec. 3, Kubash showed up at Victoria International Airport expecting to catch his WestJet flight back to Kelowna. He said he checked in his baggage and went on his merry way, not anticipating another barrier he’d soon face.

“I guess the policy is the person taking your check-in has to ask you what type of battery you have in your wheelchair. The individual there didn’t do that,” said Kubash.

While Kubash said the battery that powers his wheelchair is approved on WestJet’s website, that misstep at check-in and a lack of staffing led to a last-minute decision by the pilot that prevented him from boarding.

“They needed to call some department to give them the authorization to let me on,” said Kubash. “Having that not being a service available on a Saturday, it was left to the pilot’s discretion whether I could fly.

“He took the cautious route, which I’m not blaming him for. He was doing his due diligence… I don’t fault anyone on the ground with this or in the air. Where I do find fault is middle management, upper middle management, they should have policies in place to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Kubash wasn’t able to depart until the following day. He was told to keep his receipts, that WestJet would compensate him for lodging.

“They gave me a $15 food voucher in the airport…,” said Kubash. “I had to phone the care aid that was helping me through that week. Thank God she had time to help me, otherwise I would have really been in a tough spot. So there’s another added cost there.”

As of Tuesday, Dec. 6, Kubash had not received a personal call or apology from WestJet. However, the company did offer an apology via Victoria-based chekNEWS, saying it takes full accountability for the error. WestJet said its airport team used to verify dangerous goods information “wasn’t operating correctly,” and was unable to check/verify the wheelchair battery in time for Kubash’s departure.

The ironies of the incident didn’t escape Kubash, who shared via Twitter what he was going through on Dec. 3.

“Ha. On the International day of disabled persons @westjet denies me boarding on my return flight home because of my wheelchair. Not good Westjet. You really could have done better,” Kubash tweeted.

In another tweet, Kubash said WestJet had “fumbled the ball,” costing him a day out of his life.

“Suitable compensation? How about your CEO’s daily salary. I’m the CEO of my company. My time is as important to me as it is to them. It think that is fair.”

Asked if he would continue to fly WestJet, Kubash said he has a flight booked in December.

“Unless this gets resolved, I’m not sure,” said Kubash. “They have’t even reached out to me yet. I’m going to wait and see what’s going to happen with that. I’ll have to decide whether I’m going to try that again.”

Prior to his accident, Kubash enjoyed a decades-long career in the golf industry, in recent years serving as the turf care superintendent for the Salmon Arm Golf Club. Currently, he’s the CEO of the Tim Kubash Group (named, he explained, in tongue-in-cheek fashion after the Jim Pattison Group), which offers turf-care oriented services and products for the golf industry.

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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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