Top court to hear airline obese-seating case


OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has granted Delta Air Lines leave to appeal a ruling that found a Halifax passenger rights advocate could stand up for obese people even though he isn’t overweight himself.

The court ruled Thursday that it would look at an earlier Federal Court of Appeal ruling involving Gabor Lukacs and a complaint he had originally filed to the Canadian Transportation Agency in 2014.

The complaint was over Delta’s practice of bumping obese travellers from flights or making them relocate or buy two seats on a plane, which Lukacs argued discriminates against large passengers and should be banned. The agency dismissed the complaint because it found that Lukacs had no private or public standing in the matter because he wasn’t directly affected by it.

The federal appeal court disagreed in a ruling last September and ordered the agency to take another look at Delta’s policy.

Lukacs said Thursday he was disappointed the top court had granted the leave to appeal, but said it might provide some needed clarity to the issue.

“This protracts the process of dealing with the substance of my complaint, which is whether this policy is discriminatory,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m very pleased that the Supreme Court recognizes that this is a matter of national importance and that finally there will be some legal certainty created here.”

Delta said Thursday it is also glad the top court will “decide this issue.”

“Delta is pleased the Supreme Court has accepted our appeal because the issue before the court about what the requirements are to bring claims to the Canadian Transportation Agency is important to our industry,” Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said in a statement.

In its earlier decision, the federal appeal court unanimously agreed that the fact that someone may not be directly affected by a practice should not prevent them from filing a complaint.

“There is no sound reason to limit standing … to those with a direct, personal interest in the matter.”

While the decision addressed a particular case, Lukacs said it could open the door to more people being able to file complaints with the agency — a quasi-judicial tribunal mandated to provide consumer protection for air passengers and ensure accessible transportation.

The complaint stemmed from a 2014 email from a Delta customer care agent to a passenger who felt he was “cramped” on a flight by a large passenger. The passenger notified Delta, which provided him with an explanation of the airline’s guidelines.

Delta said it sometimes asks large passengers to move to an area of the plane where there is more room, “purchase additional seats” or take another flight.

Lukacs had argued that dismissing his complaint simply because the issue didn’t affect him personally was akin to disregarding someone’s concerns over contaminated food just because they weren’t made sick by it.

As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for deciding to hear the case, saying only that the leave to appeal was granted without costs.


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