Friday, February 18, 2011

Disabled woman loses fight with Air New Zealand over paying for in-flight oxygen

From NZPA:

A woman has lost her fight with Air New Zealand after the airline insisted she pay for the extra oxygen she needed on domestic and international flights.

Valerie Smith took her case to the Court of Appeal after losing a claim against the airline before the Human Rights Review Tribunal in 2002 and losing an appeal to the High Court.

The Human Rights Tribunal found the airline had discriminated against Ms Smith because of her disability when it required her to organise and pay for her own oxygen on domestic flights and when it charged her for the oxygen on international flights.

But the tribunal also ruled the discrimination was within an exception provided by another section of the Human Rights Act, saying it was not a breach if the service was provided on more onerous terms where the disability requires the services to be provided in a special way.

That meant the airline had not acted unlawfully.

Ms Smith has a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) which restricts her breathing and has needed oxygen when flying since 1997.

Until 2002 the airline supplied oxygen and charged passengers when they told them before flying that they needed it.

The airline changed its procedures in 2002, requiring passenger on domestic flights to supply their own oxygen.

In its ruling released today the Court of Appeal said the cost of oxygen for domestic flying added at least $68.50 to her fare with additional costs for transporting the cylinders to and from the airport and for additional cylinders if they were needed.

On a flight to Melbourne Air New Zealand charged an additional $298 for oxygen.

The Appeal judges said Air New Zealand must accommodate passengers' requirements for extra oxygen, but said it was reasonable to charge for the service.