Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau has apologized for the airline's accessibility shortfalls and announced new measures to improve the travel experience for hundreds of thousands of passengers living with a disability.

On Thursday, Rousseau said the carrier will speed up a three-year accessibility plan after a number of recent reports of passenger mistreatment, including an incident where a man with spastic cerebral palsy was forced to drag himself off of an airplane in Las Vegas due to a lack of assistance.

"Air Canada recognizes the challenges customers with disabilities encounter when they fly and accepts its responsibility to provide convenient and consistent service so that flying with us becomes easier. Sometimes we do not meet this commitment, for which we offer a sincere apology," the chief executive said in a release.

"As our customers with disabilities tell us, the most important thing is that we continuously improve in the future. We are listening to them and today we are committing to do better and demonstrating that commitment with concrete actions."

The measures range from establishing a customer accessibility director to consistently boarding passengers who request lift assistance first. Air Canada also aims to implement annual, recurrent training in accessibility — such as how to use an eagle lift — for its 10,000-odd airport employees and include mobility aids in an app that can track baggage.

David Lepofsky, visiting research professor of disability rights at Western University's law faculty, said that as a blind person he "dreads" flying in Canada because of unreliable service, despite an overhaul of regulations starting in 2020.

"The inconsistency with the quality of the ground assistance you get is appalling," he said.

"The problem is that we've got airlines that systemically are not ensuring that they respect that law and obey it, and a law enforcement regime that's fatally flawed."

Statistics Canada found that 63 per cent of the 2.2 million people with disabilities who used federally regulated transportation in 2019 and 2020 faced a barrier.

Air Canada executives sat down Thursday morning with Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Kamal Khera, minister of diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities, after a summons from Rodriguez last week prompted by several high-profile events involving passengers with disabilities.

These included the Las Vegas incident with 50-year-old Rodney Hodgins, which triggered an investigation by the Canadian Transportation Agency. That event prompted B.C. comedian Ryan Lachance, who has spastic quad cerebral palsy, to come forward with his story of being dropped and injured by Air Canada staff while trying to exit a plane in Vancouver in May. Crew had declined to use the lift he needs to leave his seat.

"All Canadians must be treated with dignity and respect. Full stop," Rodriguez said in a statement on Nov. 3.

"They must present a plan to address this. Canadians expect Air Canada to do better."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.