It's not exactly a case of Rome burning while Nero fiddled, but classical violinist Itzhak Perlman was certainly left fuming after an Air Canada employee at Toronto's Pearson Airport who was to assist the disabled musician abandoned him.
CTV News reports Perlman -- who needs either crutches or a mobility scooter to get around after contracting polio as a child -- arrived Monday afternoon in Toronto for a charity concert when he encountered the problem.
Perlman told the news outlet he had been traveling to Toronto for more than four decades and it was the first time anything like that happened to him.
"I was met by somebody at the doors of the airline and he says, 'I'm here for you,'" Perlman, now back in New York City, told the news outlet during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. Perlman said the person was at first reluctant to carry Perlman's handbag but did so. From there he accompanied Perlman in an elevator down.
When the attendant and Perlman approached a second elevator the musician said the attendant said, "'That's where I leave you.'" When Perlman asked what he was supposed to do with the handbag, Perlman said the attendant said, "'It's not my problem that you chose to carry an extra bag. You're not paying me for this. I'm not your personal assistant. I have other flights to take care of.'"
The Air Canada attendant then left Perlman, who said he felt as if he was in the "Twilight Zone area in the Toronto airport," before customs. Nobody came to Perlman's aid, leaving the musician to put bags on his knees and his violin on top of said bags. "I just kind of drove down the elevator, I had my crutches and so on," Perlman said.
Even more incredulous was the brief conversation Perlman said he had with the assistant who revealed his father was in a wheelchair following a hit-and-run accident. "It's not he's like a stranger to this kind of a problem and yet he just said, 'That's not my job here, I'm leaving you.'"
As Perlman added to the Toronto Star, "As I was going through the airport on my scooter alone, I was looking around and I kept seeing these signs that said, ‘Welcome to Canada.’ And I just thought, 'Oy.'”
"We find this very concerning as it’s not at all representative of Air Canada's policies to take care of customers with disabilities,” airline spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in a statement. "We're looking into this regrettable situation. We will be in contact with the customer to discuss this matter and offer our apologies." The airline added they see 25,000 wheelchair requests monthly at Pearson Airport.
"Well I think this time it didn't work," Perlman said in response to the statement. "I don't know what was on his mind, but I was left alone. I was left alone."
Perlman says the benefit concert at Roy Thomson Hall helped him get over his anger at the airport arrival situation. According to Roy Thomson Hall's official site the Sing For The Children concert featured Perlman and Brooklyn-based cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot with proceeds supporting Chai Lifeline Canada, an organization assisting children battling serious illness.