One Person/One Fare


What Ten Years of Talking Has Gotten Us

The National Transportation Agency (NTA) is calling for consultation and input. The matter involves its Proposed Amendment to the Air Transportation Regulations Concerning Air Fare Charges for Attendants of Persons with Disabilities. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has been hammering away at this issue for over a decade now; however, we’re still, apparently, at the consultation stage.

A voluntary reduction of 50 per cent is what the airlines currently offer. One of the features of NTA’s proposal is an increase in the reduction to 75 per cent; that looked tempting at first. There should, of course, be no additional cost to a person with a disability who travels with an attendant, but initially, if nothing else, we saw this proposal as a significant move in the right direction. Then we noticed the eligibility-criteria side of what was being proposed, and on learning that there were actually more restrictions here as to who may fly with an attendant, we called to mind the old proverb about “all that glitters…”

The list outlining those eligible for the attendant air-fare reduction uses terms such as “quadriplegic,” “deaf-blind,” “became blind or paraplegic within the last 12 months,” etc. While the last listing does refer to “a physical disability other than those referred to in paragraphs (a) to (e),” it leaves little room for doubt that persons who have been paraplegic or blind for longer than 12 months would not be eligible. If this is the intent — and it’s certainly up to NTA to clarify the point — then these proposals are regressive and not deserving of support. There are a number of reasons why many paraplegic and blind persons have to travel with attendants. It has always been our contention that eligibility must be based on functional limitations, not upon broad-based, all-too-easily applied labels like “paraplegic” or “quadriplegic.”

The NTA has also proposed that they issue an “attendant air fare card”; the Agency would determine eligibility and issue the card for a three-year period. While some view the prospect of carrying a card as stigmatizing, others will welcome no longer having to have their doctor contact the airline’s medical consultant each time they wish to travel.

There are instances of air travellers who require more than one seat because they need to lie down (either on a stretcher or not) or because they use a respirator. There has not been a clear and consistent policy on this issue to date, nor is it touched on in the NTA’s proposed regulations. Obviously, an additional space requirement should never occasion the imposition of additional costs to consumers, and we are disappointed that NTA did not take the opportunity afforded here to lay this troublesome concern to rest.

At the risk of being charged with “reading between the lines,” I sense a tangible, yet unspecified undercurrent at work within the proposed regulations. In effect, they seem to have been drafted to emphasize the notion that any system developed is bound to be unduly abused. The consequences of this assumption are, as one might expect, readily apparent. But if the carriers (or NTA for that matter) have evidence of a significant level of abuse of the existing attendant air fare reduction policy, what’s holding them back from divulging it? We know that there is a perception of abuse in the public mind — some would aver that it is a carefully cultivated one — regarding many programs in Canada, but let’s not allow a perception to move us into the realm of blaming the victim.

Our conclusion is that the proposed regulations give only an appearance of positive movement: Eligibility criteria would be more stringent than is the case now. Underlying the text is a paranoid attitude that systemic abuse has to be of paramount concern in the discussion. And the issue of unfairly charging travellers with severe disabilities who require more than a single seat is not addressed. All in all, there has not been much movement on this front to date. A lot of paper, but not a lot of progress.

(Eric Norman is Chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ Transportation Committee.)


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