November 27, 2008

Canadians with Disabilities Win Air Transportation Access

From November 20, 2008:

Today the Supreme Court of Canada denied Air Canada and WestJet’s request to appeal the decision of the Canadian Transportation Agency which requires the airlines to accommodate persons who need additional seating space because of their disability. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) launched this action in 2002 to remove a long-standing barrier to the travel of persons with disabilities. People with disabilities who required an attendant in flight to assist them with services not provided by flight attendants and persons with disabilities who required additional seats were having to pay for two airfares. This decision now brings planes into line with other modes of transportation such as rail, bus and marine who do not charge for additional seats.


November 20, 2008

Canadians with Disabilities Win Another Historic Transportation Access Battle

“We celebrate this decision and are thrilled to see the removal of another long-standing barrier to our mobility and travel,” said Pat Danforth, Chair of CCD’s Transportation Committee. “What continues to be a concern, however, is that we are being forced to pursue legal action to ensure accessibility of our national transportation system. Where is the federal government’s leadership on this issue? We urge the Government of Canada to regulate access standards for persons with disabilities on all federally regulated transportation systems,” said Danforth.

“We have been victorious in two major transportation access battles in the past 8 years,” said Marie White, Chairperson of CCD. “First we fought VIA Rail’s purchase of inaccessible passenger rail cars all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and now we have made the airlines more accessible as well,” said White. “These victories are to be celebrated but they could have been more appropriately handled through the development of access regulations by Transport Canada,” said White.

CCD urges the Government of Canada to move away from voluntary codes of practice and regulate the industry to ensure that the equality guarantees of the Charter are made real and that Canadians with disabilities have equal access to the goods and services of Canada. CCD urges the airlines to speedily implement this decision. Access for Canadians with disabilities has been denied long enough.

Canadians with disabilities take heart that the Courts have upheld, and continue to uphold, the equality rights of persons with disabilities.

Disabled Passengers have the right to two seats: Canadian court decision

November 20, 2008

Canada's largest airline is trying to figure out which obese and disabled passengers will be eligible for additional seats at no charge after the country's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the airlines.

The Canadian Transportation Agency issued an order last January requiring Air Canada and other domestic airlines to make additional seats free to disabled or obese passengers who need extra room.

The airlines' appeal was rejected twice — first by the Federal Court of Appeal in May, and then by the country's highest court on Thursday.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said Monday they are developing detailed eligibility rules for free seats. The ruling Thursday applies only to domestic flights and will be implemented January 9, 2009.

"It's been basically left to the airlines to determine how they are going to comply," Fitzpatrick said. "We're working on it now."

Under the ruling, airlines cannot charge extra for an obese person who needs an additional seat or a disabled person who needs space for a wheelchair or stretcher or who must be accompanied by an attendant.

David Baker, the Toronto lawyer who fought the case on behalf of disabled passengers, said the ruling will allow more disabled people to travel. Joanne Neubauer of Victoria, one of two people whose complaints sparked the case, said the news made her feel like "an equal citizen in this country."

Neubauer who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and uses a motorized wheelchair.

Air Canada and WestJet, Canada's second largest carrier, said they will comply with the transportation agency's order. WestJet spokesman Richard Bartem said his company may consider extending the policy to international flights.

Bus, train and ferry companies have long made arrangements for free extra seats, but the airline industry had argued it would lose too much money by doing the same.

The transportation agency rejected claims that providing extra seats would impose an "undue hardship" on airlines, saying they can afford the financial burden.

The agency estimated the cost to Air Canada at about $7 million Canadian (A$8.7 million) a year and to WestJet at about $1.5 million Canadian (A$1.9 million) a year. The agency said that amounts to about 77 cents Canadian a ticket for Air Canada and 44 cents Canadian for WestJet.

To put it another way, the agency said the cost would be 0.09 per cent of Air Canada's annual passenger revenue and 0.16 per cent of WestJet's revenue.

Top court backs free seat ruling for some disabled, obese travellers
Last Updated: Thursday, November 20, 2008 | 4:08 PM ET
CBC News

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a regulatory ruling requiring airlines to offer a free extra seat to certain disabled and obese people.

In a decision released without comment Thursday, Canada's top court rejected an application by Air Canada and WestJet for permission to appeal a Canadian Transportation Agency ruling issued earlier this year.

The court's decision means airlines must offer a "one person, one fare" policy to disabled people who require room for an attendant during the flight or require extra room for a wheelchair, or for people who are clinically obese and take up more than one seat.

Bus, train and ferry companies have long agreed to such arrangements, but the airline industry has argued it would lose too much money by doing the same.

The case has wound its way through various agencies and courts for years. It was originally brought forward in 2002 by three parties:

* Victoria resident Joanne Neubauer, who has rheumatoid arthritis and requires a personal attendant, wheelchair and crutches.
* Eric Norman, a man from Gander, N.L., who had a rare disease that impaired his motor skills. He has since died.
* The Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

Calgary law Prof. Linda McKay-Panos, who was later granted intervener status, has been arguing for the rights of obese travellers since she was charged for 1½ seats on a 1997 Air Canada flight.

McKay-Panos argued anyone who is clinically obese has a disability and should not have to pay for more than one seat. She has polycystic ovary syndrome, an incurable condition that can lead to obesity.

McKay-Panos said Thursday she was happy with the decision, but her main concern is how the airlines will implement the new regulations.

"I think whatever they do, it has to be done with dignity and not in public and [not be] humiliating or anything like that, and not in front of people on the airplane," she said.

Spokespeople for WestJet and Air Canada said they will comply with the decision.
Questions surrounding decision

But WestJet spokesman Richard Bartrem said there are still many unanswered questions.

"Will we be putting criteria in place to determine whether somebody travels with an attendant out of necessity or out of desire?" he said. "What is morbidly obese? How are we going to be able to make that determination and implement that respectfully, and consistently and fairly?"

In 2006, the agency held public hearings on air travel costs for people with disabilities.

This past January, the CTA ruled airlines must offer a single fare to people with disabilities who require an attendant during the flight and clinically obese passengers. It gave the airlines one year to implement the policy.

WestJet and Air Canada turned to the Supreme Court after the Federal Court of Appeal rejected their bid to appeal the ruling.

Posted by rollingrains at November 27, 2008 01:05 AM