An article in The Toronto Sun:
Rose Finlay’s worst nightmare took flight on a Cuban vacation this week.
The 25-year-old mother of two is still awaiting her $7,000 custom wheelchair to arrive home from Varadero, after a long ordeal travelling with Sunwing, the airline which she claims repeatedly mistreated her.
“It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had,” Finlay said at her Bowmanville home Friday evening. “There were three planeloads of Canadians just watching me break down and cry.”
She took to social media and wrote about “the trip from hell” in a Facebook post, which has been shared over 32,000 times since it was posted Thursday.
Finlay and her husband, 32-year-old Brandon, booked a week-long vacation to Cuba without their kids to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, leaving May 20.
Diagnosed with a spinal cord injury at 16, she relies on her wheelchair and said she provided a detailed list of medical supplies and specifications of her chair.
When the plane landed in Varadero, Finlay said she was told by airline staff they couldn’t provide her with her custom chair at the door of the plane, but that it would come out on the carousel with the rest of the baggage. She said in usual circumstances, her wheelchair would be tagged and after she was shown to her seat, it would be the last thing to go on the plane.
“That way, when you get off the plane, your chair is there and you’re not any longer without the supports that are necessary,” she said. “But in Cuba, that wasn’t the case. They said it’ll come out with the baggage and here’s a rickety old chair, hop in. My husband placed me in it and I was completely crooked and I was pushed out to the baggage carousel with all the Canadians waiting, just watching.”
Her wheelchair came out “dead last,” Finlay said.
Because of an uncomfortable mattress, Finlay developed a pressure sore on her buttocks and requested the onsite Sunwing representative to relocate the couple to another resort. Upon arriving at the second resort, the pain continued and Finlay said she couldn’t find a Sunwing person to speak to about going home early.
And then, she got an e-mail stating that her return flight Thursday had been changed from a direct flight back to Toronto to one with a stopover in Manzanillo, Mexico, extending the trip by two hours. But when a representative was reached by phone, they offered no explanation and refused to put Finlay in touch with a manager.
The couple arrived at the airport three hours early.
“The longer I’m out of my custom wheelchair, the more risk I put myself for pressure sores and different things that can happen to my body,” Finlay said. “The Cuban airport is a very intimidating place, you don’t want to look like you’re stepping out of line. The check-in person told me to step out of my wheelchair because they have to check that too, and I said, ‘There’s not a chance in hell you’re going to get me out of my chair. What if I get it back and it’s a crushed tin can?’ I started to bawl.”
A Sunwing representative allegedly refused to give Finlay an identification tag for her wheelchair unless she was checking it in. The couple said they watched the airport empty out and were the last ones escorted through customs.
“They basically interrogated me like I was a terrorist,” she said. “All because I was fighting for my human rights.”
When Finlay landed in Toronto on Thursday, her wheelchair was nowhere to be seen, despite hearing the aircraft crew confirm three times the item was on board the plane.
In a written statement Friday, Sunwing said it is “currently assisting a customer with the return of her specialized wheelchair that was off-loaded in error” on a flight returning from Varadero and is offering the family a full refund.
“When this issue was brought to our attention, we immediately advised the customer that we would bear the costs of a replacement wheelchair while we worked to recover her own,” said Sunwing Travel Group marketing vice-president Janine Chapman, adding that the company launched an investigation. “During the course of this investigation it has become apparent that inter-departmental miscommunications have meant that our usual high standards of customer care were not observed.”
Arrangements are being made to have Finlay’s wheelchair returned on Saturday before noon, Chapman said.
Finlay said she hopes she sees her wheelchair intact, delivered at her doorstep. But until then, she has to rely on her husband “to be my legs.”
She said she will never go back to Cuba or fly Sunwing again.
“If I was given a free vacation to Cuba, I wouldn’t even give it to my worst enemy,” Finlay said. “Especially someone who is disabled.”