Promised help never arrived for vulnerable Woodstock girl with rare condition during Air Canada flight

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As she greeted her parents at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Ema Hodgkinson couldn’t hold back her tears anymore.

For most of the day, 12-year-old Ema had managed to keep it together.

That’s despite the fact no one from Air Canada came forward to accompany her at Harrisburg airport in Pennsylvania after returning from a week-long trip to a camp for children with rare skin disorders.

Despite the fact she has a rare condition that leaves her unable to sweat and prone to overheating without air conditioning, but had sat an hour in a plane with the AC turned off while waiting to take off.

Her parents had paid $210 extra for someone to help their unaccompanied child to navigate the airport, and Air Canada had also been fully informed of her rare skin condition.

As soon as they arrived home Aug. 18, her mother Sarah Hodgkinson complained to Air Canada after employees at the airport gave her a number to call.

“The reason I went to the media is that this can’t happen to another kid,” Hodgkinson said.

Hodgkinson said Air Canada finally apologized for the fiasco 11 days after her daughter was left helpless in an airport and only two hours after she told her story to the media Wednesday.

“I am so angry,” Sarah Hodgkison said. “It was 11 days of waiting and their policy is five business days. It’s ludicrous.”

Ema was born with congenitial itchthyosis erythroderma, a condition so rare that only 1 in 2.5 million Canadian children are born with it.

Because she requires air conditioning to survive, Hodgkinson said her daughter could have died because the air conditioning had been turned off in the airplane during the wait for take-off.

When Ema flew out of Toronto airport on Aug. 12, everything went well with a staff member escorting her through the gate and assisting her with immigration.

She had a note explained her condition and her need for air conditioning and that she overheats easily.

“It was all good,” Hodgkinson said.

But on her way back home, no one came forward to accompany her and a camp employee had to take her to the gate herself.

On the plane, Ema found herself waiting for takeoff in a non-air-conditioned plane with not even a bottle of water to keep her hydrated.

“It felt very hot,” Ema said of her condition. “It feels like being underwater in a hot tub.”

Once in Toronto she followed other passengers and signs through the airport.

At one point going through the paperwork and immigration process she said she felt “scared and threatened.”

Unsure which carousel held her luggage, she ran between carousels hoping to spot her suitcase.

“The last one had my bag — just one bag going around in a circle — it was sad,” Ema said.

After being offered a limo ride home by Air Canada staff, the family returned to Woodstock in the car they brought with them.

Finally on Wednesday morning, an email from Air Canada offered them a refund for unaccompanied minor charge and baggage fee, as well as a $300 e-coupon for their troubles and an apology.

“We treat these matters seriously, and we will use your feedback to prevent this from happening again,” the email said.

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