Decision No. 565-AT-A-1998
January 28, 1999
ERRATUM to Decision No. 565-AT-A-1998 dated November 23, 1998 - Don Urquhart/Central Mountain Air Ltd.
File No. U3598/98-15
Page 7 of the above-noted Decision is replaced by the page attached hereto.
November 23, 1998
APPLICATION by Don Urquhart pursuant to subsection 172(1) of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C., 1996, c. 10, regarding the refusal by Central Mountain Air Ltd. to carry his guide dog on board Flight No. 1706 operated between Comox and Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 4, 1998.
File No. U3570/98-15
Don Urquhart 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 July 24, 1998.
The issue to be addressed is whether Central Mountain Air Ltd.'s (hereinafter Central Mountain Air) refusal to carry Mr. Urquhart's guide dog constituted an undue obstacle to the mobility of Mr. Urquhart and, if so, what corrective measures should be taken.
Mr. Urquhart is blind and uses a guide dog as his primary means to facilitate his mobility.
Mr. Urquhart had made arrangements to travel accompanied by his guide dog from Comox, British Columbia, to Dallas, Texas, for a week-long business trip. Mr. Urquhart and his guide dog were initially scheduled to fly to Vancouver with Canadian Regional Airlines (1998) Ltd., carrying on business as Canadian Regional (hereinafter Canadian Regional), on Flight No. CP1360. From there, he was to transfer to a connecting flight to Dallas. Reservations were made, and confirmation had been received, at least 48 hours before the departure of his flight on July 4, 1998.
Upon arrival at the airport, Mr. Urquhart was informed that Canadian Regional's Flight No. CP1360 had been cancelled. Arrangements were made for him to fly to Vancouver on Central Mountain Air's Flight No. 1706. While Central Mountain Air has a policy which provides that service animals may accompany passengers with disabilities on board its aircraft, Mr. Urquhart was informed by the air carrier's contracted Customer Service Agent that he could not travel accompanied by his guide dog on that flight due to the size of the aircraft. Mr. Urquhart was offered rebooking on a later flight that would have allowed the carriage of service animals in the cabin, but he chose to travel without his guide dog on Flight No. 1706 in order not to disrupt his business plans in Dallas.
Positions of the parties
Mr. Urquhart states that federal and provincial legislation, such as the Canada Transportation Act and the Guide Animal Act, require that guide dogs be permitted access to all forms of public transportation and that, in accordance with the Canadian Human Rights Act, discrimination against any individual on the basis of a disability is prohibited. Mr. Urquhart stresses that his rights to equal access pursuant to the above-noted laws were violated by Central Mountain Air.
Mr. Urquhart submits that his guide dog is an interdependent part of his mobility and that, due to the insensitivity of the air carrier, he was forced to immediately find a suitable boarding place for his guide dog and to travel to Dallas unaccompanied, which placed undue stress and hardship on himself and on his guide dog. While Central Mountain Air did offer to rebook him on a later flight which would have allowed him to travel with his guide dog, Mr. Urquhart states that this option was not acceptable. He expresses the view that, by law, he has the right to travel with his guide dog when and where he wants. Additionally, travelling on a later flight would have seriously disrupted his business plans.
Mr. Urquhart requests a formal apology from Central Mountain Air and the revision by this air carrier of its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with federal and provincial legislative provisions applicable to the acceptance/carriage of service animals.
Central Mountain Air deeply regrets the inconvenience caused to Mr. Urquhart as a result of the incident and confirms that it does have a policy which states that "service animals are carried free of charge when accompanying a passenger in the cabin or when carried in the baggage compartment." The air carrier provided a copy of this policy. Central Mountain Air submits that this policy and any additional information pertaining to passengers with service animals is accessible through the computer system at check-in counters. The air carrier explains that the contracted Customer Service Agent at Comox was unsure as to whether guide dogs were permitted to accompany passengers in the cabin of the aircraft on the subject flight and, due to the cancellation of Canadian Regional's flight and the urgency to rebook all passengers on the next available flights at the last minute, she failed to recognize that Mr. Urquhart's guide dog was to be carried on the same flight as the passenger.
Central Mountain Air submits that the incident has been reviewed with the Customer Service Agent concerned and information reiterating its policy on the carriage of service animals has been sent to all crew and ground staff to prevent the recurrence of such an incident. A copy of the bulletin issued was also submitted.
Central Mountain Air has also advised that, as a gesture of goodwill and without prejudice, it has offered Mr. Urquhart an open-date ticket for travel anywhere on Central Mountain Air/AirBC's network.
Agency officials contacted Central Mountain Air and requested the submission of its training program, including the information set out in the Schedule (Section 11) of the Personnel Training for the Assistance of Persons with Disabilities Regulations (hereinafter the Agency's Training Regulations).
On the issue of the personnel subject to the Agency's Training Regulations, Central Mountain Air indicates that all of its employees and contractors have been trained in accordance with the Regulations as follows:
- At Smithers and Fort St. John, British Columbia, the customer service agents are employees of Central Mountain Air and they have attended the sensitivity training program of AirBC in Vancouver.
- The contracted airport ramp operators and baggage handlers who provide services for Central Mountain Air at these two bases are trained by Canadian Regional.
- Check-in, airport ramp operation and baggage handling services at all other bases served by Central Mountain Air are provided by employees of other airlines and/or those of a contractor. These employees are subject to the Agency's Training Regulations and have received the training given by either AirBC or Air Canada.
While all of its own employees are actually trained by AirBC and all contracted employees are trained by their respective employers, Central Mountain Air submits that it is currently in the process of developing its own sensitivity and awareness training program based on Transport Canada's generic training program known as The Way to Go: Transportation Services and Persons with Disabilities. Central Mountain Air has requested that the Agency conduct a review of its training program and advises that this training program will be implemented upon approval by the Agency. Central Mountain Air also advises that its current staff will attend a refresher course within sixty days of the implementation of the training program.
Subsequent to the close of pleadings, the Agency received correspondence from the National Federation for the Blind: Advocates for Equality (Vancouver Island Chapter) and the Vancouver Island Dog Guide Society in support of Mr. Urquhart's complaint. These organizations want to pursue an application for compensation for the stress, humiliation and emotional impact allegedly suffered by Mr. Urquhart as a result of the air carrier's refusal to carry his guide dog. By letter dated November 5, 1998, the Agency advised these organizations that it does not have jurisdiction to award compensation of this nature and, as such, would not accept their letters as submissions and reopen pleadings.
Analysis and findings
In making its findings, the Agency has reviewed all of the material received and on file with respect to this matter and considered all of the evidence submitted by the parties.
With respect to aircraft with thirty or more seats, the Air Transportation Regulations, SOR/88-58, as amended, require that carriers accept a service animal for carriage in the passenger cabin. While the aircraft that Mr. Urquhart travelled on had less than 30 seats, the Agency is of the opinion that persons with disabilities should always be allowed to travel with their service animal regardless of the size of the aircraft. In this regard the Agency notes that Central Mountain Air does have a policy which clearly establishes its acceptance of service animals for carriage in the cabin of its aircraft when accompanying a person with a disability and that this policy is accessible to its check-in agents on the computer system.
While the Agency recognizes the confusion caused by the urgency to transfer the passengers at the last minute due to the cancellation of Canadian Regional's flight, the Agency finds that this was no excuse for the Customer Service Agent's failure to consult the computer system if she was unaware of the carrier's policy. The Agency therefore finds that the air carrier's refusal to carry Mr. Urquhart's guide dog on board its aircraft constituted an obstacle to his mobility as it resulted in his being deprived of the assistance of the service animal for the full week of his business trip in Dallas. This obstacle is found to be undue in that it could have been easily avoided had the Customer Service Agent been aware of the air carrier's policy and procedures on the carriage of service animals on board its aircraft and, if in doubt, had she consulted the computer system.
The Agency, however, notes that the incident has been reviewed with the Customer Service Agent concerned and that the carrier has issued a bulletin reminding all crew and ground staff of its policy regarding the carriage of service animals. While the Agency finds that the corrective measures undertaken by the air carrier should prevent the recurrence of incidents such as the one experienced by Mr. Urquhart, it remains concerned that an employee trained with the Air Canada/Air BC training program would not have been aware of the common acceptance of these service animals in the passenger cabin.
Pursuant to paragraph 4(a) of the Agency's Training Regulations, every air carrier is required to ensure that all employees and contractors of the air carrier who provide transportation-related services and who may be required to interact with the public or to make decisions in respect of the carriage of persons with disabilities receive a level of training appropriate to the requirements of their functions in, amongst other areas, the policies and procedures of the air carrier with respect to persons with disabilities, including the relevant regulatory requirements. These Regulations further require that once all employees are trained, air carriers must implement a refresher training schedule.
The Agency notes that all of the employees and contractors of Central Mountain Air subject to the Agency's Training Regulations have received sensitivity and awareness training which was provided through the training programs of Canadian Regional and Air Canada. The Agency has, in separate files, reviewed the content of the training programs developed by these two air carriers and is satisfied that they meet the requirements of the Agency's Training Regulations.
In addition, Central Mountain Air will use the generic program developed by Transport Canada and plans to commence refresher training of its employees following the Agency's review of its content. The Agency has reviewed the program and is satisfied that it should provide appropriate refresher training for its customer service agents. It is also noted that new employees will receive initial training within sixty days from the beginning of their employment and refresher training will be provided on an annual basis thereafter. While the Agency has accepted the submission of Central Mountain Air that all of its employees and contractors have received initial training, the Agency requires it to provide the training records of all of its employees showing the initial training received as well as the schedule of subsequent refresher training for Agency review. With regards to contractors, Central Mountain Air should provide confirmation from each contractor of the schedule of their employees' initial and refresher training.
Based on the above findings, the Agency determines that the refusal by Central Mountain Air to carry Mr. Urquhart's guide dog on board Flight No. 1706 constituted an undue obstacle to the mobility of Mr. Urquhart. The Agency, however, takes note of the various corrective measures undertaken by the air carrier and finds that they should prevent the recurrence of incidents such as the one experienced by Mr. Urquhart.
Central Mountain Air is hereby required to provide the Agency, within thirty (30) days from the date of this Decision, with the training records of all of its employees and contractors showing the initial training received as well as a schedule of refresher training.
- Michael Sutton, ing. - P. Eng.
- Gilles Dufault