Team Canada wheelchair basketball player frustrated after airline loses custom gear

An elite Manitoba para athlete is frustrated after he spent a month begging WestJet to find his lost equipment, only to have the airline return it within hours of being contacted by CBC.

Joshua Brown is a wheelchair basketball player with Team Canada’s U23 lineup, which is headed to the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation’s men’s world championship in Thailand this year.

Brown, who has cerebral palsy, has spent much of his life working toward that goal.

“I only get one chance to play in the junior world championship,” he said. “This is my chance.”

But he hasn’t been able to prepare as he would have liked, after WestJet lost key parts of his gear on a direct flight from Winnipeg to Toronto.

The 21-year-old from East St. Paul, who now lives and trains with the national team in Toronto, said his heart sank when he realized the equipment hadn’t made it.

He had all his other bags, so he waited more than an hour for his gear to show up.

“I’m pretty patient. I don’t like to cause a huge scene. So I waited and waited and waited.”

That wait continued for a month, as Brown and his parents made numerous calls to the airline and multiple trips to the airports in both Winnipeg and Toronto.

Brown says the gear used by wheelchair basketball players is custom fit and would take months and thousands of dollars to replace. (Wheelchair Basketball Canada)

The missing bag held his specialized sports wheels and other custom wheelchair parts Brown said would take months — and thousands of dollars — to replace.

“It’s not just like going to buy clothes or toiletries,” said Brown, who said he tried to explain to WestJet agents how important those wheels are. 

“There are only a few companies that make them,” he said, adding that each athlete has equipment built to their specific measurements and needs.

“So you can’t just go to any guy and ask him to lend it to you,” said Brown. “It has to be a guy near your height and weight.”

He missed some important practices this month because of the lost bag, and had to compete with Team Manitoba at the nationals earlier in June with borrowed equipment that kept breaking.

“It’s a bad rep to have,” he said. “As a team member on Team Canada, you don’t want to be the guy that’s sitting there like, ‘Oh man, can I borrow this? Can I borrow that?'”

‘Myriad of challenges’: WestJet

CBC contacted WestJet on Thursday to find out what happened. Within seven hours, the airline found the bag that had been missing for a month.

In an email, WestJet says it expedited the bag to Brown and apologized for the inconvenience.

He says he’s glad to have it back, but still finds the experience frustrating.

“It took literally less than a day, after they knew about this whole interview and the whole thing going on TV,” he said. “It kind of seems a little fishy to me.”

Brown said his wheel bag is a distinctive, oversized piece of baggage, so he was surprised it could be lost on a direct flight from Winnipeg to Toronto. (Joshua Brown)

In its statement, WestJet said “the baggage delays we are seeing are largely a result of a myriad of challenges that include flight delays and cancellations, resource constraints and ground operations.” 

The airline said it’s “invested in additional WestJet oversight” for partners responsible for “delivering our baggage services in a timelier manner.”

Brown said he’s looking forward to putting the incident behind him and focusing on his passion: wheelchair basketball.

“It’s been my whole life,” he said. “Ever since I was four or five years old, I have never stopped playing sports.”

He said his attention is now squarely back on preparing for an international competition in Turkey in August, and the junior world championships in Phuket, Thailand, in September. 

Manitoba para athlete frustrated after airline loses custom gear

3 hours ago

Duration 2:05

A Manitoba para athlete spent a month begging WestJet to find his lost equipment, only to have the airline return it within hours of being contacted by CBC.