Sebastian is seven years old and has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He can’t sit up on his own.
His mom, Kara Sharp, and her husband planned a trip to Australia to visit family. They were supposed to leave on Wednesday from Pearson International Airport. They did not. Instead, they are still at a nearby hotel.
When Sharp booked the trip on Dec. 10, Cathay Pacific, over the phone, approved the use of a special chair for Sebastian. The $4,000-chair allows him to sit upright.
The family was supposed to fly on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. to Hong Kong, then connect to Melbourne.
They did not get approval for the seat from upper management at the company’s headquarters in Hong Kong, who were contacted on Wednesday. Instead, they were told they’d get approval on a later flight, one scheduled at 1:45 a.m. on Thursday.
Her husband boarded the plane and tested the seat with the crew.
“Even the captain got involved,” Sharp explained. “The people here were trying very hard.”
The crew and captain texted and emailed upper management back and forth in Hong Kong, but the seat wasn’t approved, despite Sharp’s insistence that it had been approved prior to her booking the tickets.
According to Sharp, the airline said that because Sebastian is seven, he has to use one of their pre-approved devices instead.
“But Sebastian is the size of a four- or five-year-old,” Sharp said. “He’s 14.5 kilos, and weighs less than his three-year-old sister […] they’re saying it’s all about safety but that’s not true. We feel that they’re not interested in showing that people with disabilities can travel like everyone else.
We’ve flown with the seat before on four different planes with different airlines.”
She believes the other airlines were WestJet and Air Transat.
“I’m appalled at their alternative,” Sharp said.
Sharp said Cathay Pacific has four devices for people with physical disabilities, but none of them suit Sebastian’s needs. One of the items is a five-point harness. (See the photos below of the harness.)
“It will secure him to the seat but wouldn’t hold him up,” Sharp said.
In addition, Cathay Pacific apparently has to fly the harness over from Hong Kong on a 15-hour flight.
“I don’t know why it’s not on every plane. It could help other kids that are disabled,” Sharp said. “We don’t want this to happen again with someone else. We feel like it shouldn’t be hard for people with disabilities to travel.”
Cathay Pacific and Transport Canada have not returned calls to CityNews.
Cathay Pacific called other airlines to see if they could help, but those said it would take up to a week for other airlines to approve.
Sharp’s husband is Australian and they haven’t been back in seven years. Sebastian’s eighth birthday is coming up and the family tries to do something special for it every year because his complicated birth is related to his disability.
“My son understands something is happening with him as he engages with the world around him […] my kids just want to see their grandparents,” she said.
The next Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong is at 1:45 a.m. on Friday.
The family has another, much larger battle ahead of them. It has nothing to do with an airline but involves the government of Canada. They have lived in Canada for the last six years but have been told they must prove their son won’t drain the health care system if they want to become permanent residents.
(To view this video on mobile, click here)
UPDATE (5 p.m. ET) – Air Canada has agreed to let the family fly with the seat, so the family will be leaving for Melbourne via Vancouver Thursday night.