Friday, June 27, 2008

Oxygen on airplanes

Making it easier for people requiring oxygen to travel on airplanes has been another advocacy issue for the HPS Network. It's something we've advocated for on Capitol Hill with the American Thoracic Society.

Currently it can be a real pain to travel if you reuqire oxygen. Some airlines flat out won't allow it. Others will, but they won't let you bring your own and they charge you a nice little fee for the right to breathe on their planes. They don't always provide oxygen for flight changes, delays or cancellations. The patient has to pay for and arrange all of this. It's no picnic.

It seems that Canada has seen the issue as one of access for the disabled. (This is something I'd like the revamped ADA to cover.) They've announced steps that are ahead of the U.S. This is great for Canada, and it's great for us. We can now point to Canada as an example to show it can work and not be dangerous. Here's the press release from the Canadian Department of Transportation.

Canadian Transportation Agency Decision on use of Medical Oxygen by Air Travellers


OTTAWA - June 26, 2008 - The Canadian Transportation Agency issued a final Decision today which outlined undue obstacles to the mobility of air travellers with disabilities who require medical oxygen and ordered a series of corrective measures to be taken by Air Canada.

This Decision No. 336-AT-A-2008 follows the 2005 interim Decision where the Agency determined the existence of obstacles but did not have enough evidence to rule whether the obstacles were undue. The Agency decided to pursue its investigation through a public hearing held in 2007 in order to gather more information and explore possible corrective measures or alternatives to remove any undue obstacles as necessary.

WestJet allows passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen on domestic flights but not on transborder or international flights which meant that, in 2005, passengers requiring medical oxygen could not travel on these flights. The Agency found this to be a significant obstacle to these persons with disabilities at that time. Since then, WestJet has removed the obstacle voluntarily by amending its policies to allow the use of passenger-supplied portable oxygen concentrators (POCs), an approved and widely accepted new technology, on all its flights. As a result, the Agency found that no further action is required of WestJet.

Air Canada does not allow passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen, but provides its own gaseous oxygen service to passengers for a fee on all of its flights. In 2005, the Agency found there were systemic obstacles with this service. Since February 2008, Air Canada has also allowed the use of passenger-supplied POCs on its domestic, transborder and some international flights.

In today's Decision, the Agency ruled that passenger-supplied oxygen, in whatever form is permitted by safety and security regulations, is the most appropriate accommodation for persons with disabilities who require oxygen to travel by air with Air Canada and WestJet; specifically, passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen and POCs on domestic air services and passenger-supplied POCs on international air services. However, should Air Canada choose to continue to provide a gaseous oxygen service rather than allow passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen, the Agency is willing to accept Air Canada's service as providing a reasonable alternative to passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen on its domestic air services on the condition that it implements the Decision's corrective measures.

Air Canada must implement corrective measures within specified time frames but all must be completed within a one year period from the date of this Decision. Some of the key corrective measures include:

modifying its Fitness for Travel form to seek only information on the person's oxygen-related needs;

providing 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; and,

providing its carrier-supplied oxygen service free of charge on board the aircraft and within terminals, except for the cost of the oxygen itself and any non reuseable pieces of equipment.

Where passenger-supplied POCs are permitted by foreign regulatory regimes but Air Canada does not yet allow their use, Air Canada must continue to provide its carrier-supplied gaseous oxygen service consistent with the Decision's corrective measures.

This Decision continues to ensure equal access to the federal transportation network for persons with disabilities, regardless of the nature of the disability.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is an independent tribunal which operates like a court to render decisions on a case-by-case basis. The Agency's jurisdiction with respect to persons with disabilities, stated in Part V of the Canada Transportation Act, is to ensure that persons with disabilities have proper access to effective transportation service. The Agency makes decisions and orders to eliminate undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities in the federal transportation network.

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Backgrounders on the Agency's Decision No. 336-AT-A-2008 on oxygen may be found in the Media Room at www.cta.gc.ca. The Decision No. 720-AT-A-2005 issued December 13, 2005, and related news release may also be found on the Agency's Web site.

For further information, please contact:

News Media Enquiries: Jadrino Huot at 819-953-9957
General Public Enquiries: info@cta-otc.gc.ca; 1-888-222-2592;
TTY: 1-800-669-5575 (Canada only)

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