- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

TORONTO | Canada’s largest airline is trying to figure out which obese and disabled passengers will be eligible for additional seats at no charge as a result of the country’s Supreme Court rejecting an appeal by the airlines.

The Canadian Transportation Agency issued an order in 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 Nov. 20.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said Monday the carrier is developing detailed eligibility rules for free seats. Last week’s ruling applies only to domestic flights and will go into effect Jan. 9.

“It’s been basically left to the airlines to determine how they are going to comply,” Mr. 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 ruling made her feel like “an equal citizen in this country.”

Ms. Neubauer has 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 $5.6 million a year and to WestJet at $1.2 million a year. The agency said that amounts to about 62 cents a ticket for Air Canada and 36 cents for WestJet.

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