Commission helps disabled air passenger take Thomas Cook to Supreme Court in discrimination case.

29 November 2012

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.

Ends

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

Notes to Editors

The disability discrimination claim was made under Regulation 9 of the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007. This UK law implemented a European Convention (Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006) about the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has guidance on the rights of disabled people and air travel:
Your rights to fly - step by step guide

The Commission, in partnership with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), has produced a free online training course to encourage greater awareness amongst the travel industry of the needs of disabled customers. More information can be found on the Commission's website:
New course for travel industry: accessible travel made easy

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.