CTA Ruling: Is a Seafood Allergy a “Disability”?

In the most recent of a series of decisions (see here, here and here) determining whether allergies constitute a disability that must be accommodated by Canadian air carriers, the Canadian Transportation Agency (the “CTA”) released a decision yesterday considering whether Air Canada’s policy of serving seafood and fish on its flights constituted an undue obstacle to a passenger’s mobility (click here for the full text of the decision).

This latest ruling confirms the CTA’s practice of analyzing each allergy complaint on a case-by-case basis and illustrates the difficulties faced by air carriers when trying to decide whether a passenger’s description of an allergy constitutes a disability that must be accommodated.

The passenger claimed that she had a life threatening allergy to all seafood and fish.  She was told by her doctors that she would be placing herself at risk of anaphylaxis if she were to go into an enclosed environment where fish is being cooked.

Prior to flying from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then on to London, United Kingdom, the passenger contacted Air Canada with regard to the meal service on its scheduled flights.  Air Canada was unable to confirm which food would be served, but suggested that the passenger check with the flight attendant upon boarding the aircraft.  The passenger followed this advice and encountered no problems on her flight between St. John’s and Halifax.  However, the gate agent in Halifax told the passenger that Air Canada’s crew would be eating a meal containing salmon during the flight to London.  As a result, the passenger disembarked from the aircraft.

After first advising the passenger that she would need medical clearance before being allowed to fly again, Air Canada made sure that its caterer removed the fish option for the crew’s meal on the next flight and placed a more detailed note on her file explaining her food allergy.

The passenger complained to the CTA that there was a lack of transparency with respect to Air Canada’s meal service, which made it impossible for food allergy sufferers to make an informed choice about whether they can travel safely.  The CTA accepted that the passenger had an allergy to seafood and that she therefore had an impairment.  The medical evidence was that the passenger’s reaction was triggered by the inhalation of seafood steam which would result in a sore throat and difficulty swallowing.

The CTA ruled that this allergic reaction was not significant enough to result in an activity limitation.  It also concluded that since the meals on Air Canada’s aircraft are re-heated and not cooked, there was no steam which would result in a allergic reaction.  Therefore, the CTA ruled that the passenger did not experience an activity limitation and she was not a person with a disability due to her allergy.

*Photo courtesy of Rakratchada Torsap – FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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