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Cathay Pacific’s Indecision Over Child’s Chair Keeps Family in Limbo

Cathay Pacific’s Indecision Over Child’s Chair Keeps Family in Limbo
Jackie Reddy

A family traveling from Toronto to Melbourne has been unable to fly because of the Hong Kong carrier’s policy on their son’s specialist medical seat.

They were meant to leave Toronto for Australia on Wednesday, but a Melbourne-bound family has been unable to board their flight due to Cathay Pacific’s policy toward the seat used to support their child, who has cerebral palsy.

Since mid-week, the Sharp family, and their son, seven-year-old Sebastian, have been staying at a hotel near Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ). They are currently waiting for approval from the carrier to take Sebastian’s supportive medical seat on board their flight to Melbourne via Hong Kong.

Sebastian’s mother, Kara Sharp, has said that she received a verbal approval of the use of this chair when booking the family’s tickets on 10 December 2015. Unable to support himself, Sebastian’s chair, which cost CAD 4,000 ($3,154), enables the child to sit upright.

Despite this initial approval, the Sharps were told that they still needed consent from Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong headquarters to take the chair on board. This, unfortunately, did not come through in time for their 3:30 p.m. flight to Hong Kong on Wednesday. The family was then told that they would be granted approval for a later flight, scheduled to leave in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Despite considerable assistance from the cabin crew as well as the flight’s pilot, who attempted to contact the management team on behalf of the family, approval still was not forthcoming.

Sharp told CityNews that the carrier has now told her that, because her son is seven, he must use one of their pre-approved seats rather than his chair. However, she commented that “Sebastian is the size of a four- or five-year-old.”

Additionally, it’s been revealed that one of the devices which could be used first needs to be flown from Hong Kong. While Cathay Pacific has called other airlines for assistance, it has advised that it may take up to a week for these carriers to approve a device.

Cathay Pacific has not commented to CityNews, but Sharp has said, “We feel that they’re not interested in showing that people with disabilities can travel like everyone else.”

[Screengrab via CityNews]

View Comments (9)


  1. celsius1939

    April 23, 2016 at 3:31 am

    The parents have caused most of this problem by not preparing properly. It is not our problem.

  2. tanja

    April 23, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    I totally disagree.when you have a handicapped child they did what they knew how. we dont know until we have it in the family. I do have a handicapped grandson. 14 Years old. Without his chair and things he would not be able to even board a plane.

  3. Euphonix8

    April 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    So they thought that the child would be sitting in that chair the entire flight? If thats the case what do they expect? How is that safe and where will it go?

  4. seoane

    April 23, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Very stupid comment. If you have nothing proper to say, why don’t you keep quiet?

  5. o mikros

    April 24, 2016 at 12:54 am

    Wow, celsius, that’s pretty heartless. It sounds like the parents *did* try to “prepare properly” and thought they had been given approval back in December. They also have a lot of other things to stay on top of, since, well, you know, they have a son with cerebral palsy. (I’m guessing you don’t know anyone with the condition, so your callous dismissal is understandable but not defensible.)

    And nobody ever tried to make it your problem, so why go out of your way to be harsh?

  6. AllieKat

    April 24, 2016 at 6:23 am

    This makes a total joke of disabilities rights laws. Celsius, you’re a jerk. That simple. I hope you never find yourself with a disability, because it isn’t easy. People shouldn’t have to prepare just because they have a disability any more than anyone else has to. That’s the point of laws REQUIRING accommodations.

  7. jonsg

    April 24, 2016 at 11:53 am

    The parents did prepare properly. They asked CX about the chair, and were told it would be OK, so they went ahead in good faith. This is CX’s problem.

  8. FlyPointyEnd

    April 25, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    We’re they expecting to use the seat on board? The post said “Unable to support himself, Sebastian’s chair, which cost CAD 4,000 ($3,154), enables the child to sit upright.” I am guessing, either they were not clear when they spoke to CX last December or the person at CX didn’t understand the situation well and just assumed it will just be like bringing a wheelchair and that it would be transferred to the cargo hold during boarding.

  9. o mikros

    April 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    The chair is a sort of “booster” seat, akin to what you think of as a normal carseat but with more side support and restraints. And yes, Euphonix8, it is perfectly reasonable for the parents to expect the child to sit in it for the duration of the flight, just as my toddler sits in his carseat for long flights.

    The problem here (I’m speculating) is that the seat isn’t officially certified by the FAA as “airworthy” (kinda hard to do for what is likely a custom medical device) so CX is making them wait until they fly in their own approved seat. I can understand the airline’s hesitation to assume liability but I can also sympathize with the parents’ plight. Unfortunately, this is a no-win situation for anyone, because the “best case scenario” is still a long and uncomfortable transpacific flight in economy. Just as with the O-line in American football, we only notice these stories about the airlines vis-a-vis disabled passengers when things go wrong.

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