Air Canada ordered to modify oxygen policy

Danette Dooley
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As a result of a ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency this week, Air Canada must make a series of corrective measures to assist air travelers who require oxygen.

While WestJet allows passengers to bring their own portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) on all flights, Air Canada does not.

As a result of a ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency this week, Air Canada must make a series of corrective measures to assist air travelers who require oxygen.

While WestJet allows passengers to bring their own portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) on all flights, Air Canada does not.

Rather, it provides, for a fee of $150, its own oxygen service.

The agency ruled Air Canada's policy causes unnecessary obstacles for passengers.

While the directive notes since February 2008, Air Canada has allowed the use of passenger-supplied POCs on its domestic flights, Peter Jackson says that wasn't the case when he and his wife travelled with the airline in March - 2 1/2 weeks after Jackson underwent a kidney transplant in Halifax.

Jackson is the Telegram's editorial page editor.

Having cleared Air Canada's rule that passengers aren't permitted to travel unless two weeks have passed since surgery, he and his donor-wife Sheila Ryan booked a flight home to St. John's, only to be told at the airport that - after a review of Jackson's medical file - he would not be permitted to fly without oxygen.

Had the airline allowed passengers to carry POCs - as the agency states was the case at that time - Jackson says he could have easily gone out and bought one.

Instead, he was told because the airline didn't allow passenger-supplied POCs, Air Canada-supplied oxygen - which was unavailable at the Halifax airport - would have to be prepaid by Jackson then flown in from Montreal.

"If the policy of allowing people to carry their own oxygen was in place in February," Jackson says "the airline's staff in Halifax certainly didn't know about it in March."

When contacted by The Telegram in March about Jackson's concerns, Isabelle Arthur, manager of media relations with Air Canada, said the airline's oxygen policy precluded passengers from bringing their own oxygen cylinders.

The delay was both stressful and unnecessary, Jackson says. And as a result he and his wife caught a WestJet flight home, without incident.

While the recent Canadian Transportation Agency decision notes that allowing air travelers to carry their own POCs is the most appropriate accommodation for persons with disabilities, the agency further ruled that, should Air Canada choose to continue to provide its own oxygen service, such a service will be accepted by the agency only if several corrective measures are put in place.

The airline must modify its fitness for travel form to seek only information on the person's oxygen-related needs.

It must also provide a continuous carrier-supplied oxygen service from the point of check-in, during connections and until arrival in the general public area at the final destination.

The carrier-supplied oxygen service must be provided free-of-charge onboard the aircraft and within terminals, with customers paying only for the cost of the oxygen itself and any non-reusable pieces of equipment.

All corrective measures must be implemented within a year.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Air Canada, Canadian Transportation Agency, WestJet The Telegram

Geographic location: Halifax, St. John's, Montreal

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