Being Tall is Not a Disability

Being tall can have many perks: a better view at concerts and sporting events and the ability to reach objects on the high shelves at grocery stores.  But being tall also comes with its challenges:  not being able to comfortably sit in aircraft seats with limited leg room.

But is being tall a disability?

Malcolm Johnson, who stands 6’7½ ”, filed an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency pursuant to Subsection 172(1) of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C., 1996, c. 10 (the “CTA”) against Air Canada with regard to the additional fees charged for economy class seats with extra leg room. 

Mr. Johnson argued that, because of his height, he could not sit in a “regular seat” without endangering his health due to restricted circulation in his legs from the cramped seating.  He wanted Air Canada to eliminate the additional fees charged to persons who, due to their height, need economy class seats that afford extra leg room.  In addition, he asked that Air Canada reimburse him for all previous flights where he had to pay for seats with extra leg room.

The CTA indicated that while there are situations where a disability is self-evident, there are cases where additional evidence is required to establish both the disability and the need for accommodation.  In assessing these cases, the CTA may use the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, which is an internationally accepted tool for the consistent classification of a disability, and/or medical documentation.

In order to be found to be a person with a disability for the purposes of Part V of the CTA, Mr. Johnson would have to prove that he:

  1. has an impairment;
  2. experiences an activity limitation that is significant enough to result in an inherent difficulty in executing a task or action; and
  3. experiences a participation restriction in the context of the Federal Transportation Network.

Mr. Johnson provided a note from his doctor confirming his leg measurements and the doctor’s concern that cramped seating could cause a lack of mobility that, during flight, can lead to an increased risk of deep venous thrombosis. 

The CTA noted that a risk of developing a medical condition does not equate with having a condition.  Therefore, the CTA ruled that Mr. Johnson did not provide evidence to demonstrate either an abnormality in body structure or physiological function associated with his height.  The CTA ruled that he did not prove the existence of impairment, which is required for a positive finding of disability.  The CTA dismissed the application.  For a copy of the CTA decision, click here.

<< Back to Aviation Law