BUSINESS
12/12/2011 02:32 EST | Updated 02/11/2012 05:12 EST

Air Canada: Disabled Travellers Launch Lawsuit Over Seat Costs

MONTREAL - Disabled travellers across the country who had to pay extra for seats on Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) could be in line for compensation as part of a class action lawsuit authorized in Quebec.

A judge has approved a suit against Air Canada on behalf of disabled Canadians who had to pay extra for seats over a three-year period.

Quebec City law firm BGA Barristers & Solicitors LLP made the announcement public on Monday after getting the go-ahead from the court.

The suit covers disabled individuals and also those with a functional disability related to obesity who faced extra charges for seats adapted to their condition.

The suit also includes those travellers who had to pay extra fees when acting as the attendant for a person with a disability.

The class action is specifically for people who travelled on a domestic flight from Dec. 5, 2005, to Dec. 5, 2008.

Lawyer David Bourgoin, who is representing the plaintiffs, says he's actively seeking someone to represent WestJet Airlines Ltd. (TSX:WJA) clients in the same claim.

The initial motion included a WestJet passenger too, but in her ruling, Justice Catherine La Rosa didn't believe the claimant qualified under the ''one-person, one-fare" policy.

Bourgoin said the time frame is short to find a WestJet claimant and they are actively looking for one across the country.

"The fundamental reasons for the Air Canada judgment apply to WestJet,'' Bourgoin said.

''It's only because of the representative that WestJet is not part of the class action.

"We only have just a couple of weeks to reintroduce WestJet because after that the rights will be definitely lost for all people who flew with WestJet and paid for an extra seat."

Since January 2009, disabled or obese people who fly in Canada have been exempt from having to pay for a second seat if they have a medical certificate.

The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled in January 2008 that domestic airlines must offer the policy.

It estimated it would cost Air Canada about $7 million a year and WestJet about $1.5 million a year.

The country's top court refused to hear a case put forth by Air Canada and WestJet, which battled the policy through various boards and courts.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld that regulatory ruling in late 2008.

Bourgoin said it's impossible to know just how many people may have flown during the prescribed period, but they'd be entitled to compensation for the flights as well as moral and punitive damages.

In the case of Paul Arsenault, who sued Air Canada on behalf of his wheelchair-bound brother Normand, reimbursement for flights and damages amounted to $2,500.

La Rosa's judgment came down in October but the court authorized an official notice to members this week.

A spokesman for Air Canada says the company won't comment as the action is before the courts.

A spokesman for WestJet also had no comment.