Decision No. 294-AT-A-1999
May 31, 1999
APPLICATION by Susan Kinsella pursuant to subsections 172(1) and (3) of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C., 1996 c. 10, concerning the level of assistance provided by Canadian Airlines International Ltd. carrying on business under the firm name and style of either Canadian Airlines International or Canadi*n Airlines or Canadi*n during a trip from Toronto, Ontario to Calgary, Alberta.
File No. U 3570/99-5
Susan Kinsella filed an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency (hereinafter the Agency) with respect to the matter set out in the title. The application was received on January 29, 1999. Canadian Airlines International Ltd. carrying on business under the firm name and style of either Canadian Airlines International or Canadi*n Airlines or Canadi*n (hereinafter Canadi*n) filed its answer on March 2, 1999. Ms. Kinsella filed her reply to Canadi*n's answer on March 18, 1999.
The issue to be addressed is whether the level of assistance provided to Ms. Kinsella by the airport and in-flight personnel of Canadi*n constituted an undue obstacle to her mobility and, if so, what corrective measures should be taken.
Ms. Kinsella has a visual impairment. When her trip from Toronto to Calgary was booked through her travel agent, the latter was advised that she was legally blind and that she would require assistance during the trip. The travel agent included that information in Ms. Kinsella's Passenger Name Record (hereinafter PNR) with all other data pertinent to her flight reservations.
Ms. Kinsella was accompanied by friends when she checked-in at Canadi*n's airport ticket counter in Toronto on October 30, 1998. Although it was verified with an agent that the request for assistance was registered, Ms. Kinsella was not provided assistance to proceed through security and to the boarding gate. Further, she received no assistance on board the aircraft and on arrival in Calgary before she was met by her son in the general public area.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
Ms. Kinsella states that she was left unattended following check-in in Toronto after her companions were advised that they could leave and that she would be looked after. Her companions however escorted her to the security check area and witnessed that she was not provided with assistance while going through security. Ms. Kinsella advises that she was subsequently driven to the gate area by means of an airport electric vehicle, again without any assistance from the agent driving the vehicle. After disembarking from the vehicle, she had to find her way to the boarding gate on her own when she could not find airport personnel to assist her. Although she identified herself as a blind person when boarding the aircraft and asked for assistance to proceed to her seat, the flight attendants did not assist her. Ms. Kinsella further alleges that, during the flight, she was not provided with any assistance to and from the washroom. Finally, upon arrival in Calgary, she was not assisted by either a flight attendant or an airport agent to proceed to the general public area to meet her son.
Ms. Kinsella advises that, on her return trip to Toronto, she received appropriate assistance and expresses her appreciation to the personnel involved. Ms. Kinsella's complaint states that there is disrespect towards blind persons in general and that these persons should not feel lowered by their disability. She is of the opinion that she should be compensated for the inconvenience she experienced while in the custody of Canadi*n and requests a refund of her ticket.
Canadi*n recognizes that the concerns raised in Ms. Kinsella's complaint indicate that she did not receive the level of service that passengers with disabilities should expect, and apologizes for "the lack of more proactive assistance" from its personnel. While admitting the lack of assistance, Canadi*n notes that there was no verbal discussion between the travel agency and carrier's personnel as to the type of assistance required for Ms. Kinsella. The carrier advises that its personnel is trained to provide the level of assistance required by passengers with disabilities and that it will be following up with its Airport and In-flight Base Managers to ensure that they are aware of the incident. With respect to compensation, Canadi*n declined to refund the air fare as requested by Ms. Kinsella in that the passenger used her ticket for transportation. As a goodwill gesture, Canadi*n sent the applicant a $200 voucher for future travel.
Ms. Kinsella refused the $200 voucher as unsatisfactory settlement of her complaint and the inconvenience she suffered. Ms. Kinsella finds the offer inadequate, unfair and humiliating. She states that if no satisfactory solution can be found, she will pursue the matter through legal action.
ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS
In making its findings, the Agency has considered all of the evidence submitted by the parties during the pleadings. The Agency finds that the level of service provided to Ms. Kinsella by the airport and in-flight personnel of Canadi*n constituted an obstacle to her mobility. The Agency further finds that this obstacle was undue in that it could have been easily avoided had Canadi*n's personnel demonstrated awareness and sensitivity towards the passenger's needs.
Although the Agency notes that the passenger's disability and requested assistance were not discussed and confirmed verbally between the travel agent and Canadi*n through the carrier's Meda Desk, it is of the opinion that Canadi*n's personnel was alerted on several occasions, through Ms. Kinsella's PNR and by the persons accompanying her to the airport, that she required assistance. Therefore, Canadi*n's personnel should have been able to provide a level of assistance compatible with Ms. Kinsella's disability. It is noted that Canadi*n recognized the absence of assistance and apologized to Ms. Kinsella for the inconvenience she endured as a result. It is further noted that the carrier took measures with its managers to address the problem.
The Agency is aware that Canadi*n has a training program for assistance to passengers with disabilities and that its customer service personnel has received such training. Also, the fact that Ms. Kinsella received appropriate assistance during her return trip indicates that the undue obstacle she experienced during her outbound trip is not the result of a systemic problem with respect to services provided to passengers with disabilities. Nevertheless, the Agency is of the view that Canadi*n should remind its personnel and travel agents of the importance of properly communicating information, at all stages of the trip, concerning any assistance required by passengers with disabilities in order for these persons to receive this assistance on departure, on board the aircraft and on arrival at destination.
With respect to compensation, the Agency notes that the carrier issued Ms. Kinsella a $200 travel voucher as a goodwill gesture but refused to reimburse her ticket as requested. It is further noted that Ms. Kinsella refused the $200 compensation as an unsatisfactory settlement for "the inconvenience she suffered".
Pursuant to subsection 172(3) of the Canada Transportation Act (hereinafter CTA), the Agency may direct that compensation be paid for any expense incurred by a person with a disability arising out of the undue obstacle. While the Agency found that there was an undue obstacle when Ms. Kinsella was not provided assistance at the airport and on the flight, the cost of her ticket is not an expense resulting from this undue obstacle. Therefore, this element of Ms. Kinsella's complaint is not within the purview of subsection 172(3) of the CTA. Accordingly, the Agency does not have the jurisdiction to award damages resulting from suffering.
The Agency finds that the absence of assistance to Ms. Kinsella on her departure from Toronto, during her flight, and on arrival in Calgary did constitute an undue obstacle to her mobility. Based on the above findings, Canadi*n is hereby required to issue a bulletin reminding its front line customer services personnel such as reservation and airport agents, flight attendants, as well as travel agents, of the importance of proper communication during all stages of the trip to ensure that passengers with disabilities receive appropriate assistance. In this bulletin, travel agents should also be reminded to communicate with the carrier's Meda Desk to discuss any assistance required by passengers with disabilities. Canadi*n may issue the said bulletin electronically in its computer reservation system. Canadi*n is further required to provide the Agency with a copy of the bulletin for information.