I don’t know why the blogosphere has erupted over this just now (I saw several posts on the subject in my non-aviation-related categories on Google Reader), but I’ll mention it: the Canadian Transport Agency’s January ruling on obese travelers was challenged by Air Canada and WestJet, upheld by a lower court, and appealed to Canada’s high court, which declined to hear the case, meaning that the CTA’s rule stands. According to a blog post I wrote in January, the regulation requires airlines to give an extra seat to a person who needs it due to being “functionally disabled by obesity for purposes of air travel.” But as I wrote then, the rule is sneaky: it specifically excludes “persons who are obese but not disabled as a result of their obesity.” But then defines “functionally disabled by obesity” according to Southwest Airlines’ practice of “screen[ing] for entitlement to an additional seat by determining whether a person can lower the seat’s armrests.” Basically, anyone who spills over the armrest gets an extra seat. And there are plenty of functional folks who meet this criterion.
So . . . it looks like Derrie-Air won’t be flying to the Great North anytime soon. . . .
Top court backs free seat ruling for some disabled, obese travellers [CBC]
Canada rules obese get second seat free on flights in Canada [WalletPop]
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Posted in Evan's News and Quick Takes, tagged air traffic control, airports, BAA, canada, competition, delays, Deregulation 2.0, dot, europe, faa, regulation, southwest, travel on October 23, 2008|
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My story in The American magazine is now up on its website. Here’s the lede: “Thirty years ago this October, the era of affordable mass air travel was unleashed. Why was this revolution stalled, and what can be done to finish it?”
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Air traffic control commercialization can change the incentives in the ATC system, Eugene Hoeven (pictured at right) said during a panel discussion last Wednesday, leading to dramatic improvements in the industry. Hoeven, the director for ICAO affairs of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the trade association for air naviation service providers (ANSP), spoke at an American Enterprise Institute panel on February 20. (Here are event information and media, and here’s the speech.)
Hoeven said that today’s airline troubles are a result of bad policies, including the failure of lawmakers to recognize ATC as an integral part of the air traffic system. He said that satellite-based technologies would be the long-term operational answer. But “all this costs an awful lot of money.” Hoeven looked at the debates over FAA funding that have consumed the aviation community for the past several years, and he concluded that “the FAA, just like the airlines, is a victim of bad government policy, constant political meddling and bipartisan politics.”
So, he asked, is commercialization the answer? He flatly rejected “privatization,” the selling off of the ATC system — echoing moderator Ron Utt’s statement that privatization would be a no-go — but he said that by focusing on how to fund the FAA, we are only responding to symptoms. Commercialization might have a role in “creating the right institutional environment that will make the U.S. air traffic system more responsive to the needs of the nation.”
He pointed out that the United States is one of only a few major industrialized countries that have not commercialized their ATC systems. In Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, there are autonomous government corporations to handle ATC. In the UK, the ANSP runs ATC through a public-private partnership. NavCanada is a fully privatized, nonprofit corporation. “Where governments have ‘let go’ of ANS provision,” he said, “and granted greater autonomy for the ANSP, there has resulted a greater responsiveness to the needs of the aviation community.” (more…)
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I briefly blogged the Canadian Transportation Agency’s ruling on obese passengers the other day, but I wanted to revisit it. The policy requires airlines to provide an extra seat, at no extra charge, for someone who is disabled and needs a personal assistant during the flight, as well as for someone who is “functionally disabled by obesity for purposes of air travel.” The ruling is a little sneaky: it specifically excludes “persons who are obese but not disabled as a result of their obesity.” But how does it define “functionally disabled by obesity”?
Their screening mechanisms could be adapted to include functional assessments, and related screening expertise is available to them. For persons disabled by obesity, the Agency cites the practical experience of Southwest Airlines, which screens for entitlement to an additional seat by determining whether a person can lower the seat’s armrests.
So, if someone meets Southwest’s criterion for a “customer of size” (best euphemism ever!), that person is protected by Canada’s new policy. Basically, anyone who spills over the armrest gets an extra seat. Well, there are plenty of functional folks who meet this criterion. Talk about defining disability down! (Canadian courts have affirmed this definition.)
Many other airlines have two-seat policies in place. Southwest was singled out a few years ago on late-night TV for articulating its policy, but the Dallas-based airline is not alone. Some hope the Canadian ruling will spur similar responses elsewhere. According to an e-mail from Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, “NAAFA is very pleased to hear that Canada has adopted this policy. We hope that other countries/airlines will follow suit. People of size have become targets for all sorts of discrimination, especially in the last few years, and it is a real victory and a joy to have someone come down on our side for a change.”
It seems that NAAFA still has a long way to go. Courts outside Canada have been less sympathetic to lawsuits by portly passengers (see here and here). Furthermore, the Canadian decision seems to raise more questions than it answers. Is someone too tall to fit into an airline seat “functionally disabled for purposes of air travel”? How does safety fit into the matter: would a morbidly obese passenger move too slowly during an emergency evacuation? This report from CTV points out that buses, trains, and ferries cannot discriminate; does the Canadian Transportation Agency put airplanes into an identical class? Airlines are allowed to take all sorts of exceptions to other “rights,” so why not this one? It will be interesting to watch where Canada goes from here.
In the meantime, keep your armrest down.
Canada: Airlines may not charge clinically obese fliers extra [Today in the Sky]
See also: Canada prohibits airlines from charging overweight passengers for an extra seat [Upgrade: Travel Better]
Photo credit: Flickr user djwess. Used through a Creative Commons license.
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