Wednesday December 09, 2015

Air Canada amends policy following challenge from deaf-blind passenger

Lawyer Carrie Moffatt, right, complained about Air Canada's deaf-blind passenger policy to Canada's transportation watchdog.

Lawyer Carrie Moffatt, right, complained about Air Canada's deaf-blind passenger policy to Canada's transportation watchdog. (Left: UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor, Right: Carrie Moffatt)

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Air Canada will amend its policy surrounding deaf-blind passengers following a ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). The decision comes after a Vancouver woman, who is legally blind and deaf, filed a complaint.

It all started more than two years ago when Carrie Moffatt booked an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Victoria. Because she would be travelling with a guide dog, Moffatt had to call the airline's medical reservation desk 48 hours before the flight. Moffatt can orally communicate by phone.

"When I called I had quite a surreal conversation with the agent," Moffatt tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "She kept telling me that I couldn't travel without a personal attendant because people who are both visually and hearing impaired can't fly alone."

"I'm quite an independent person and I'm gainfully employed. I just didn't think this policy made any sense for people like me."

Moffatt says she had taken dozens of flights with Air Canada before and never had this problem. Eventually, she was able to convince the agent to allow her to fly without an attendant.

"It took quite a bit of back and forth with the agent," says Moffatt. "She ended up removing the note on my file that said I had a hearing impairment. That was the only way I was able to fly alone."

After this incident, Moffatt decided to file a complaint with the CTA. Moffatt says she was concerned with the discriminatory nature of the policy. Further, she says, many deaf-blind people like herself don't require an attendant.

"I'm quite an independent person and I'm gainfully employed. I just didn't think this policy made any sense for people like me," she says.  "I currently have hearing aids, so that's how I'm able to hear verbal speech. I'm obviously able to speak … In terms of the vision part, I have a guide dog so it's generally not too much of an issue."

Last month, the CTA ruled in favour of Moffatt. In the Nov. 16 decision, the CTA ordered Air Canada to amend its policy and inform staff about the changes surrounding deaf-blind passengers. These changes need to be made by Dec. 15.

Air Canada says its policies are now compliant with the CTA's ruling. Further, the company says that deaf-blind passengers are currently not automatically required to fly with an attendant. 

The company has not yet, however, updated its written policy. 

Below is the full statement Air Canada sent to us about Moffatt's case:

It is important to note that the CTA finds our current policies are already compliant to meet the needs of persons who are partially deaf and blind, and therefore the requirement is for our written procedures to be updated to reflect our actual practice.

The safety of every passenger onboard our aircraft is always a priority. Air Canada currently has comprehensive policies in place to ensure that all customers travel safely and easily. Our current policies already allow passengers who are partially deaf and blind to fly without an attendant if the passenger has sufficient residual hearing or vision to be able to receive and understand safety instructions during all critical phases of the flight. In addition, on domestic flights, Air Canada already provides an attendant seat for free for visually and hearing impaired customers who wish to travel with a companion. We will be adjusting our written procedures to be consistent with our practice, as per the CTA ruling.

Please refer to the CTA's ruling below:

[41]

The Agency finds, on a final basis, that Air Canada's policy constitutes accommodation appropriate to meet the needs of persons who are partially deaf-blind, including Ms. Moffatt, in that it provides a non-discriminatory assessment process that enables persons who are partially deaf-blind to self-determine their self-reliance and only requires them to undergo medical approval if their self-reliance is reasonably in doubt.

[42]

However, the Agency finds that the Policy and Procedures for Attendant/Safety Travel that Air Canada filed with the Agency must be amended to reflect Air Canada's current process for the assessment of the self-reliance of persons who are partially deaf and blind.