CTA Ruling: Cat Allergy is a Disability

Last year, Air Canada announced that it would allow cats and small dogs to ride in the passenger cabin of its aircraft (WestJet already allowed cats, dogs, birds and rabbits in its aircraft).  As mentioned in our blog post of November 30, 2009, asthma and allergy sufferers reacted negatively to the announcement and the Canadian Lung Association commenced a “Say No to Pets on Planes” campaign. The Canadian Transportation Agency (“CTA”) recently issued a decision in response to complaints made by three individuals with severe cat allergies.  The CTA found that all three complainants were persons with disabilities and that the pet policies of Air Canada, Jazz and WestJet impacted the three passengers’ ability to travel by air.

In 2002, the CTA ruled that while an allergy per se is not a “disability”, there may be some individuals whose allergies do constitute a disability.  Therefore, the CTA deals with allergy complaints on a case-by-case basis.

All three complainants argued that the airlines’ pet policies should be disallowed.  One of the complainants requested that she be given priority over cats, meaning that cats should not be allowed in the cabin of aircraft for which she holds a ticket.  She also argued that she should be alerted prior to booking if a cat is scheduled to be carried on the flight in question.

After examining the complainants’ medical evidence and considering the submissions of the airlines, the CTA ruled that all three complainants experienced both “activity limitations” and “participation restrictions”.  An activity limitation may be found after considering the difference, in quality or quantity, between a person with the health condition performing an activity and a person without the health condition performing an activity.  A participation restriction may be found after comparing a disabled individual’s participation in a certain situation/environment with the participation of an individual without a disability.

Now that the CTA has ruled the three complainants are disabled, the next step is for the CTA to examine whether the airlines’ policies constitute an “obstacle” to the complainants’ mobility.  The CTA will then consider whether the “obstacle” is undue and whether the airlines must accommodate the complainants.

Although this ruling only deals with cat allergies, the CTA wants the airlines and the complainants to agree that the CTA expand its investigation to include a thorough review of the airlines’ policies on the carriage of other pets in aircraft cabins.

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