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20/11/2008 – Canadian Supreme Court Rules ‘Obese’ Passengers Entitled To Two Seats For A Single Fare
Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that obese passengers are entitled to two seats, rather than a single seat, for the cost of a single seat. This ruling set forth by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), and upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court, states that the two seats must be provided for those who are ‘functionally disabled by obesity.”
The ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court, and the CTA, fails to address a significant concern, the airlines’ loss of a revenue seat. Airlines run on very thin margins, and on high yield routes, the forfeiting of a revenue seat can cost the airline can be costly.
If the ruling that ‘functionally obese passengers’ are entitled to two seats is to be enforced, a series of guidelines must be put into place. These guidelines must dictate either a height-to-weight ratio, or some guideline stating the circumference of the passenger to qualify as ‘functionally disabled by obesity.’ If hard guidelines are not in place, anyone is free to state they are obese, and in turn airline are free to deny this newly upheld passengers right in Canada.
The ruling by Canada’s Supreme Court does not address how this ruling will affect passengers flying on connecting code-share flights.
When booking a flight, will passengers be required to declare that they are obese at the time of booking? What protocol will be established for granting a second seat to obese passengers on full and oversold flights? Will the obese passenger be bumped? Will another passenger be forced to be bumped? Airlines needs to establish a protocol for passengers flying on Embraer 135/145, or other aircraft with 1-and-2 seating when their seating rights disrupts parties traveling together, seeking the two seats together.
Additionally, this ruling does not take into account passengers who are unable to fit into business class seats. Of course the arm rests in business class seats do not go up, confining passengers to a single seat. Since this is not addressed in the CTA ruling, or the ruling upheld by Canadian Supreme Court, it is something that may still be demanded by those who qualify as ‘functionally disabled by obesity.’
Overall I think this ruling will eventually be heard in the courts again, despite the Court’s decision to not hear the new appeal. The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal has already previously rejected by the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal.
Until concrete guidelines are set in place, this topic will come up and be challenged regularly by the airlines in Canada and by the passengers who fly to, and through, Canada.