Canada-based airlines have been ordered to offer disabled or clinically obese travelers accompanied by an attendant the ability to fly using one ticket, even if they take up two or more seats.
The Canadian Transportation Agency ruling Thursday gives Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet one year to bring in a "one-person, one-fare" policy.
The ruling applies to disabled people, including the severely obese, who require two seats to accommodate them. It also applies to disabled persons who need an attendant seated with them on flights.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities and two individuals lodged a formal complaint in 2002, arguing it is discriminatory for airlines to charge double fares.
The agency estimates the new policy will cost Air Canada about $6.93 million a year, and WestJet about $1.48 million a year. That amounts to about 77 Canadian cents a ticket for Air Canada and 44 Canadian cents for WestJet.
That is a fraction of the cost estimated by the airlines in their submissions to the agency.
The panel said the extra cost and operational constraints to the airlines would not constitute undue hardship. It said the current practice effectively limits travel opportunities for the disabled.
"It's not a personal preference (of the traveler)," said Jadrino Huot, a spokesman for the agency. "It's not a matter of discomfort. It's a matter of need."
The ruling does not specifically apply to charter carriers, but the agency hopes the adoption of common rules by the major airlines will be adopted across the industry.
Other transportation carriers, such as buses, trains and ferries, have had one-person, one-fare policies for years.