Ruling means airlines must make room for disabled
Published Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:25PM EST
The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a ruling that says people who need an extra seat on a plane because they are either disabled or obese need only to pay one fare.
Air Canada and WestJet had made an application to the Supreme Court to appeal the order which was handed down from the Canadian Transportation Agency. However, the court rejected the application on Thursday.
Linda McKay-Panos, the woman representing obese passengers in the case, said that the ruling is great news for people who feel ashamed to travel by plane.
"It's going to make a huge difference because now I know that I'll be able to fly with dignity," said McKay-Panos, who is obese. "A few more of us can be more comfortable flying."
The agency had argued that airline companies were discriminating against some of their passengers because they were charging them an extra fare for taking up extra space on the plane.
Buses, trains and ferries have long ago stopped charging passengers in similar situations, instead adopting the agency's belief of "one passenger, one fare."
The agency's ruling means that if a disabled person needs an attendant to travel with them then that attendant gets to ride for free. Similarly, if an obese person requires two seats instead of one, they will still only be charged for one fare.
On an Air Canada flight in August 1997, McKay-Panos was charged for 1 � seats.
"My hips were flowing over the arm wrest," said McKay-Panos, who suffers from a chronic medical condition which exacerbates her weight problem. "My hips were basically touching the next person."
McKay-Panos is also a law professor at the University of Calgary and she credited her legal training in the case's successful conclusion.
Laurie Beachell, the national co-ordinator with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said the organization is "really pleased with the decision."
He said the CCD has been fighting the issue since 2002.
"There are people who need services in flight that are not provided by airline attendants," he told CTV.ca in a telephone interview from Winnipeg.
"People who are disabled need the help of an attendant to help them with positioning, eating and going to the washroom."
Beachell said that the person who represented the issue on behalf of obese passengers is not involved with the CCD but that nonetheless, the organization supports the cause.
"We recognize and understand that other people, for a variety of reasons, suffer barriers to mobility and travel and we support their fight to remove those barriers," he said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Air Canada says the airline will comply with the ruling, which takes effect in January, 2009.
"We have already commenced procedures to implement this decision," said Peter Fitzpatrick. "This involves determining eligibility and programming our systems and designing training for our employees."
Fitzpatrick also told CTV.ca that the new rules only apply on domestic flights and will not apply to the domestic portion of an international flight.
He said that the airline does not have an estimate on how much it will cost to implement the new regulation.
"We believe it will be costly and difficult to administer," he said.