Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Top Canada Court favours right to two seats for disabled passengers at no extra cost!

Dear Friends

I am thrilled to see such turnaround happening around the Globe. Though it is applicable to the domestic flights only, it is a remarkable ruling from the top court of the country.

Here are the news for your information:

regards,
Subhash Chandra Vashishth


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 ETCBC 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.

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