Canadian Airline Policies on Passenger Obesity

All information is only accurate as of the moment it is researched and any information found on anything other than an Airline supplier site, can not be validated nor should it be trusted as current or up to date information. The airline industry changes rules and policies constantly and their web sites should be used for the most relevant information, though they can be hard to navigate or even find the information you are looking for.

The statistics are overwhelming. Roughly one third of Canadians are obese and the numbers have been steadily climbing annually for 30 years. There are many reasons which influence or contribute to a persons size; such as the Province they live in, their age, gender and income levels. This means that more obese people are travelling than there has ever been and there is no foreseeable evidence that the trend will change in the near future.

In January of 2008, the Canadian Transportation Agency implemented a Domestic Policy of “one person, one fare” in regards to air travel and how obese people are to be accommodated by Canadian Airlines for Canadian travel. The agency did not define obesity, but it did clarify that obesity itself was not a disability for the purpose of accommodation. “The Agency finds that being unable to fit comfortably in the seat should not be enough evidence of the existence of a disability, as many people experience discomfort in the seat.”

All airlines with domestic flights inside Canada, such as Air Canada, West Jet, Porter, Jazz have complied with the CTA ruling and have detailed information on their various websites which explain the process a person who is obese must adhere to, so that the company can accommodate their need for extra seating at no extra cost to that individual and ensures that they have access to the same services and prices of passengers with a standard Body Mass Index. Canada is the only country in the world, with this policy in place.

Based on evidence submitted by the airlines at the hearing, the Agency concluded in 2008 that there would be a very large annual financial cost to the airlines to accommodate passengers of size as they would have to provide 2 or 3 seats for the same price as a single seat to an individual who has been deemed disabled because of their obesity. Depending on passenger loads and combined weight, freight or luggage may even need to be removed for the safety of all passengers. This cost to accommodate a disabled obese person, the airline would then pass onto the other passengers by increasing the fares, so they could maintain their existing profit margins, which the airlines implemented almost immediately.

Airline fares have continued to rise steadily and in the years since the ruling, have implemented more secondary fees for all passengers for things such as:

Charging for choosing your economy seat so you can sit with the people you are      traveling with, such as small children or your spouse.
Charging for preferred seating closer to the front of the plane
Charging for larger seats with more recline
Charging for your first and second piece of luggage
Charging very large fees for overweight baggage
Reducing the size of the single allowed carry on bag
Charging for meals, drinks
Charging for the use of on-board entertainment, for headsets or comfort kits

As new aircraft are being reconfigured, the seats are becoming narrower and the distance between the rows are being reduced to enable an additional row to be added; the seating configuration changes so that where there was once 3 seats in 1 row, 3 on each side of an aisle, you are now seeing 7 seats on a 2 3 2 configuration with an aisle on each side of the 3 people in the middle. This reduction of space is only going to increase the frustration of the majority of travelers, not just those who have a high Body Mass Index, as the usable space reduces so that comfort is virtually impossible, unless you pay a higher fare to get a bigger seat in a higher category of service with more inclusions.

There will be an increasing number of guests of size traveling and only a small portion of them will qualify for the Airline Disability benefits being given to obese people. This means more people will be pushed into smaller, confined spacing; people who realistically needed 2 seats instead of the single that was purchased. Everyone has the right to use the allocated seat space they purchased on a flight and not have it infringed on by other guests. That is going to be harder to do, as the rates of obesity continue to rise.

If you are flying with Air Canada or their subsidiary Jazz, any quests who have special needs should contact the Special Needs Department or the Medical Assistance Desk.
Phone: 1-800-667-4732 (Toll-free between Canada and the United States)
Hours of operation (Eastern Time):
Monday to Friday: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you have a medical evaluation that states you are disabled by obesity and have obtained long-term medical approval, then the form on file will be valid for 2 years before it needs to be renewed by having a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a nurse practitioner, or your attending physician complete section 3 of the Fitness for Travel form, which provides detailed information about size measurements such as weight, height, BMI and surface area. The Air Canada Medical Assistance Desk uses this information in making the determination of a passenger’s right to accommodation in the form of extra seating without charge.

Any guest who is not eligible for a free seat on an Air Canada flight within Canada, has the option of purchasing a second one for comfort. Any request for additional seating requires 48-72 hours, depending on destination, or the request can be denied, regardless of disability.

For a Transborder Air Canada flight departing to a USA destination, the company must adhere to  the US Department of Transportation’s Rule on “Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel” (14 CFR part 382). It is important to note, that the USA does not consider Obesity as a disability and makes no provisions for accommodation other than a request for additional seating or a seat with removable armrests.

With a Domestic Canadian flight using Westjet, you must submit a completed application of the Medical Seating form, if the passenger is disabled as a result of their obesity five days before your expected date of departure. It is important to note

Guests must have received approval and been activated before booking to be eligible for the reduced fare. Absolutely no refunds or compensation will be provided to guests who have already flown prior to approval under the program. Guests wishing to book the extra seat in anticipation of approval may do so, but must be approved before flight in order to obtain any potential refund. If the guest is not approved before the flight, the change or cancellation fees and guidelines for the flight segments reserved will apply.

West Jet Medical Desk Phone: 1-888-937-8538
Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. MT

The West Jet Medical Desk will establish if the completed medical form will remain in effect either permanently, for the duration of 1 year, or a specified period of time, such as the duration of a single trip.

To request additional seating for a disability associated with obesity, you must contact the Special Service Request Department at 1-888-619-8622.

The REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL SEATING FOR SELF FOR REASONS OF DISABILITY (OBESITY) form with Porter is short and very simple compared to Air Canada and WestJet but is only valid for 3 months from the date of the Dr’s signature and must be submitted as far away from the date of departure as possible. If it is given to reservations with less than 48 hours before the scheduled flight, then the guest may be required to pay for two seats in advance of the flight and submit a request for refund after they travel.

If you are a person of size and wish to travel by air domestically within Canada, to the United States or Internationally, you must be proactive in researching with the carrier you plan on booking with, to ensure you are aware of their policies in regards to obesity and to find out how they are willing to accommodate you. This is instrumental for your comfort and safety as well as that of other guests with whom you will be sharing the space with during the flight.


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