OTTAWA - The Canadian Transportation Agency has been ordered to reconsider a ruling that required Air Canada to separate pooches from passengers with dog allergies in its airline cabins.
The Federal Court of Appeal has set aside the agency's ruling, finding that it was made without any real evidence and without considering Air Canada's contention that a less intrusive remedy could be found.
The agency ruled in August 2013 that Air Canada must create a buffer zone of least five rows to separate passengers with allergies from service dogs or pet canines travelling in carriers in airline cabins.
On planes without a HEPA filter ventilation system, the agency banned pet dogs altogether from cabins whenever a passenger with a dog allergy was on board.
In cases involving service dogs on such planes, priority was to be given to whomever booked their ticket first — the passenger with the dog or the passenger with the allergy.
The agency's ruling on dogs was similar to that issued to Air Canada, WestJet Airlines and Air Canada Jazz a year earlier requiring a five-row minimum distance between travelling felines and passengers who are allergic to cats.
The ruling was issued after a passenger complained that Air Canada's policy on dogs in airline cabins created "an undue obstacle to the mobility" of passengers who suffer from a "dog allergy disability."
Air Canada appealed the ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal.
A panel of three justices concluded last month that, due to procedural snafus, the CTA issued its ruling without considering a detailed submission from Air Canada. And that, the justices said, constituted a lack of procedural fairness.
"I have no hesitation in saying that common sense has not prevailed in the present matter," wrote Justice Marc Nadon, writing for the panel.
"The agency determined important issues, not only for the applicant and all those having dog allergies, but also for Air Canada. It did so without the benefit of any real evidence being adduced by the parties and, more particularly, by Air Canada ...
"Had common sense prevailed, one would have expected the agency, at some point in time, to realize that it was disposing of these important issues without, in effect, the full participation of Air Canada."
In the submission that was ignored by the CTA, Air Canada had argued that the agency's ruling would force it to discriminate against passengers with service dogs, in violation of U.S. regulations.
The airline also argued that dog dander does not circulate in the air as easily as cat dander and that a less restrictive approach could therefore be taken to separate passengers from pooches.
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