Canada rules obese get second seat free on flights in Canada

scaleObese people who are flying internationally will have to wait a while until U.S. courts decide to pick up any similar issues. But for now, in Canada, functionally disabled obese people will have the right to a free extra seat when flying inside Canada. The ruling by Canada's Supreme Court brought an end to appeals that were brought forth by Canadian airlines, in response to the Canadian Transportation Agency's (CTA) ruling on seat policies for people who are functionally disabled.

The ruling by the CTA primarily required that airlines provide a free extra seat for a functionally disabled person's caregiver or personal assistant. But then the ruling was expanded to include, "functionally disabled by obesity for purposes of air travel", which is a significantly different definition of obese than is used in the medical world.

For medical purposes a person is considered obese if they have a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher or are 20% over their target weight. The CTA doesn't provide a clear definition of obese for air travel; only suggesting that airlines follow Southwest's policy of determining "passengers of size" based on whether or not the arm rest will go down.

In turning down the appeal, the Canadian Supreme Court noted that the airlines had failed to prove that the new rule would prove to be a financial hardship for any of the carriers. The CTA estimates that it will cost Canada Air, close to $7 million or $.77 a ticket and WestJet $1.5 million or $.44 per ticket. These are important numbers for consumers to note; with airlines charging extra for fuel and bags, there's no reason to believe that the rest of the passengers won't be paying for the extra seat!

This is yet another example of a government agency making policy and expecting companies to determine the complexities of complying with it. Unfortunately, this new rule will likely require several lawsuits before airlines have the legal definition for "functionally disabled" which will hurt the very individuals it is meant to help as well as waste copious amounts of money as lawsuits are brought.

Why stop defining functional disabled for travel by obesity alone? What about someone with a heart condition? Can they get a free upgrade to first class because the cramped, kid-infested coach section increases their heart rate to life threatening levels?

While there is no problem with meeting the needs of someone who is disabled or for a government agency to mandate rules to prevent discrimination, this ruling is too vague. Without an actual definition the ruling cheapens obesity as a disability. There are sure to be countless individuals who feign functional disability by way of obesity just to get an extra room on a flight. The CTA should move quickly to provide a standard definition and easy method of verifying if someone is, "functionally disabled by obesity for purposes of air travel", if they expect this policy to help the Canadian public.

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