Too tall to fly? Airlines accused of height discrimination
Lynda Steele and Sandra Hermiston, CTV Vancouver
Published Monday, February 9, 2015 3:00AM PST
Last Updated Monday, February 9, 2015 7:33PM PST
A Vancouver man claims he’s being discriminated against by the Canadian airlines because of his height.
At 6’4”, Bob Keenan is seven inches taller than the average Canadian man, and says sitting in an average airline seat is painful.
"It's just total discomfort for everybody, and often, the smaller the flights are, my knees go out into the aisle and then I'll get hit by the tray table carts as they go by," said Keenan.
Keenan says the problem is especially acute on smaller planes like WestJet’s small turbo prop jets.
So Keenan says he has no choice but to pay anywhere from $30 to $200 more to upgrade to a seat with the extra legroom he needs.
He says the airlines accommodate obese passengers with special seating arrangements at no extra cost,and argues they should do the same for tall passengers.
In an email to CTV News, WestJet said it sympathizes with the passenger but denies being discriminatory: "It's unfortunate that our guest feels he is being discriminated against; that is certainly not our intention. The fact of the matter is that height is not a disability."
Keenan’s not the only tall passenger who has a beef with the airlines. In 2012, a 6'7" passenger from Edmonton filed a height discrimination complaint against Air Canada with the Canadian Transportation Agency. That complaint was reviewed and dismissed.
According to a new poll by Insights West, 70 per cent of Canadians say tall passengers should not be forced to pay for special seating.
When it comes to obese passengers, they're not as sympathetic. A majority of people polled -- 51 per cent-- feel obese passengers should be made to pay for special seating arrangements.
"Height we tend to look as something that is genetic and the airline should be dealing with. Obesity, it's your problem and you have to pay for it," said Mario Canseco, Insights West pollster.
Keenan says he's not asking the airlines for a freebie, just a little consideration.
"Give us an option for having some extra leg room that isn't prohibitively expensive. I don't mind paying extra for it," he said.
Keenan says WestJet staff have told him to get a doctor's note saying he needs extra legroom for medical reasons, but if he did so he would be deemed unfit by Transport Canada to sit in an exit row, the very place he needs to be to get the extra legroom.
The fact of the matter is the airlines would rather not be forced to give anyone special seating consideration. In 2008, WestJet, Air Canada, and Air Canada Jazz appealed a ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency requiring them to provide additional seats to people with disabilities at no charge. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected that appeal.