An Air Canada employee has filed a lawsuit against the airline and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal over a scary incident aboard a May 2012 flight from Tokyo to Vancouver.
Kelly Zechel, a flight attendant for 22 years, and others on the plane noticed an acrid smell, like burning wiring, in the aircraft cabin when the plane was about two hours away from Vancouver International Airport.
Searching for the source of the smell as it became stronger, Zechel and a relief pilot pried off one of the panels in the interior cabin. They found no flames, just an acrid smell that irritated Zechel’s throat and respiratory system.
The pilots aboard the plane sought a priority landing and picked up the aircraft’s speed to ensure faster arrival.
One of the pilots told Zechel that F18 fighter jets might be deployed to escort the plane into Vancouver, according to Zechel’s petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court.
When the aircraft landed, fire rescue officials entered the plane and found a visible haze in the cabin.
Zechel and the other crew members were told that the cause of the smell was an overheated entertainment system.
She was also told by one of her colleagues that the reason for calling other planes to escort a plane is to, if necessary, “shoot down” the plane to ensure that it does not crash in a populated area, says the petition.
“Although no escort planes were involved that day, Ms. Zechel was distressed that the situation could have warranted such a response.”
Zechel says she saw a doctor to deal with symptoms she suffered arising from the incident, was diagnosed with a psychological injury from the stress as well as lung irritation, and was off work for more than a week.
Her claim for lost wages for time off work caused by the injuries was initially accepted in September 2012 by the Workers’ Compensation Board, operating as WorkSafeBC.
The airline appealed the decision to the review division of the board, the beginning of a dispute that has been played out over more than four years.
In March 2014, after being ordered by the review division to further investigate the circumstances, the board again accepted Zechel’s claims.
A second appeal to the review board by the airline was denied in February 2015 but a year later, the company filed another appeal, this time to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal.
In November, the Tribunal found that the board lacked the jurisdiction to extend compensation coverage to Zechel because she didn’t meet the legal requirements and was not a resident of B.C.
Zechel was a resident of B.C. until 2009 and moved to Manitoba where she began commuting to and from Vancouver International Airport for work, not being paid for her commute.
Such a circumstance is not unusual for Air Canada employees, with a sizable portion of the company’s workers residing in a province other than the province of primary employment, according to the petition.
Zechel, who had compensation claims rejected in Manitoba as well, alleges that the tribunal’s handling of the jurisdictional question, including its approach to identifying the location of her injury while in the air, could not have been contemplated by the legislation for reason of the “absurd” results it would cause.
“For example, an Alberta-based flight attendant that is based at the Vancouver airport would have access to the board if injured while flying over Kelowna but would lose access to workers’ compensation benefits once the plane crossed the border into the United States,” says the petition.
“The decision has left a sizable percentage of the employer’s employees, who reside in provinces other than their primary place of employment, without recourse to workers’ compensation should their injury occur somewhere other than while working in or over the province.”
No response has been filed to the petition. The Tribunal and Air Canada could not be reached.