Under a Canadian Transportation Agency ruling, travellers who need additional seating because of their disabilities will no longer have to pay more than a single fare for domestic flights.
Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet have one year to bring in a “one-person-one-fare” policy for people with severe disabilities — including the severely obese — who require two seats to accommodate them.
The ruling also applies to disabled persons who need a medical attendant seated with them on flights.
The CTA stresses the ruling applies only to people with severe disabilities. “It’s not for persons without disabilities who might, for example, feel uncomfortable in an aircraft seat,” CTA senior communications advisor Jadrino Huot told CTV Newsnet on Thursday.
The CTA estimates the new policy will cost Air Canada about $7 million a year, and WestJet about $1.5 million a year. That amounts to about 77 cents a ticket for Air Canada and 44 cents for WestJet.
But Huot told Newsnet it would be “very hard” to predict exactly what will happen with air ticket prices, as it’s up to the individual air carriers on how they would implement the one-fare policy. “Air carriers will be the only ones that could answer that question,” said Huot.
A complaint was brought against Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, WestJet and the Gander International Airport Authority in 2002 by Joanne Neubauer, Eric Norman and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Neubauer said the ruling means she can finally hold her “head up high.” “I’m an equal Canadian now,” she told CTV News.
Linda Mckay-Panos, who had fought more than 10 years for the obese, was unable to fly because she couldn’t fit into one seat. “I’m really looking forward to being able to say to my husband, ‘let’s go on a holiday where we don’t have to drive. We can actually fly somewhere.’”
Some in the airline industry, meanwhile, are complaining the industry is now faced with making some complicated decisions, including who is obese enough to qualify under the ruling. “They’re imposing new regulatory obligations which also add to the cost of doing business,” Air Transport Association policy vice-president Fred Gaspar told CTV News. “Our check-in agents are not nurses. Our flight attendants are not doctors, so we think it’s a slippery slope.”
Most Canadian bus, ferry and train companies already have policies to accommodate disabled travellers. People travelling with attendants or who have equipment or mobility aides that take up more than one seat do not have to pay additional fares while on board most a buses, trains or ferries.
Currently, Air Canada offers a 50-per cent discount for some attendants travelling with disabled customers on flights within North America.
The CTA’s decision could have far-reaching implications as Canada’s population ages. The case has also sparked the interest of advocates for obese travellers who are often charged extra fares for additional seating. In December 2001, the CTA ruled that some obese passengers could be considered disabled. In its ruling, the agency said complaints issued by obese travellers should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
With a report from CTV’s Roger Smith in Ottawa