Disabled, obese allowed free extra plane seat
Top court refuses airlines' appeal of 'one-person, one-fare' ruling
Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
The Supreme Court, by convention, gave no reason for declining to intervene in the case.
The decision ended a six-year battle by disabled travellers to secure two seats for the price of one if they need inflight attendants. Obese people can also qualify if they are too large to fit in a single seat.
"This means I'm equal now," said Joanne Neubauer, a Victoria woman whose severe rheumatoid arthritis requires her to use a wheelchair. "I'm just so excited and happy that justice prevailed."
The agency said the airlines must develop a process to assess eligibility. The free seats need not be provided to obese people who are just uncomfortable in their seats or are not disabled by their size, said the ruling.
"The agency is leaving it up to Air Canada and WestJet to develop their own screening policies," said agency spokes-man Marc Comeau.
A possible sticking point is how to decide when obesity is a disability. The agency has recommended the airlines adopt a policy used by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which gives a free seat to people who are too big to lower their armrest.
Now 51, she said she was born with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a hormonal disorder that causes obesity in about 50 per cent of those afflicted.
The carriers have predicted that their costs would be significantly more because the policy would be abused.
The case began in 2002, when Ms. Neubauer, Eric Norman, and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities launched a complaint with the transportation agency. Mr. Norman, who died two years ago, lived in Gander, N.L., and used to travel to Toronto for cancer treatment. He was paraplegic and required an attendant for air travel.
The "one-person, one fare" policy already exists for other modes of public transport such as buses, trains and ferries.