The Commission is going to the UK’s Supreme Court, to fight a ruling against a disabled air passenger which could see airlines get away with breaking the law by discriminating against disabled travellers.
The Commission is taking the case of Christopher Stott v Thomas Cook to the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of Mr Stott’s claim for damages, which the EHRC supported.
Mr Stott, a permanent wheelchair user, had to endure an uncomfortable return flight from Greece in 2008, after Thomas Cook failed to provide for his needs as the law requires.
The problems started when Mr Stott’s wheelchair overturned and he fell to the cabin floor as he was trying to board the plane from an ambulift. Being paralysed from the shoulders down, he was unable to help himself up and complained that staff appeared to not know how to deal with the situation which left him feeling angry, humiliated and distressed.
As Mr Stott is unable to move around aircraft and use the toilets, he needs special seating and always travels with his wife so she can attend to his needs. However, despite booking and confirming seats together, Mr Stott was told at the departure gate that he would not be sitting next to his wife. In addition to this, suitable seating was not provided. As a result, Mrs Stott had to leave her seat a number of times during the three hour and twenty minute flight, to kneel in the aisle next to Mr Stott whenever he needed help.
However, the Court of Appeal judges decided that damages should not be awarded even though discrimination had been proved and it was found that the cabin crew did not attempt to ease the couple’s difficulties in any way.
This ruling means that after boarding a plane, disabled passengers cannot seek compensation from an airline if they are discriminated against during a flight.
The Commission believes that the Montreal Convention, which covers injury, death and loss of baggage, is irrelevant to the claims of disabled travellers. It does not deal with discrimination, so should not affect disabled passengers’ rights.
John Wadham, General Counsel at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
‘The Commission welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to let us appeal this case. It is not only significant for Mr Stott, but for all disabled passengers anywhere in Europe who are discriminated against while flying.
‘We believe that treating passengers with equality and dignity includes fully recognising the rights of disabled passengers, which also includes the right to compensation when things go wrong.
The Commission has guidance on the rights of disabled passengers on its website.