Are Allergies a Disability? CTA to Decide


In an effort to investigate four separate complaints from people with severe allergies, The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) may very well expand the legal definition of “disability”. The issue on the table will be if allowing pets to ride in airline passenger compartments represents an undue obstacle for people who have severe pet allergies. And if medical evidence proves it does, then the CTA may classify “severe allergies” as a disability.

And let me be clear here, when they say “severe” they mean much more than just a few sniffles and sneezes. They are talking about people who could have severe asthma attacks and in fact die from exposure to specific allergens.

And if they could, those animals would be banned.

Currently both Air Canada and WestJet allow small animals in the passenger compartment, but to be honest it has been a long contentious battle. On one side are the passengers who don’t want their animals subjected to the baggage compartment, while on the other the Canadian Lung Association feels that pets should be banned from passenger cabins altogether, just like on British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Southwest Airlines.

“People who are disabled by lung disease should not be prevented from traveling on aircraft,” said Jennifer Schenkel, Director of Communications for the Canadian Lung Association.

Of course I was concerned about service animals, but the CTA has emphatically stated that the issue at hand only concerns pets, and that service animals will always be allowed on flights. That’s reassuring to me, but what happens if a person with a service animal happens to be traveling on the same flight with someone with severe allergies?

Does one disability trump another?

Well, the Canadian Lung Association has an answer for that too. According to Jennifer Schenkel, “In cases where a service animal will be present, passengers should be informed in advance and given the option of remaining on the flight or be moved to the next available flight at the cost of the airline.”.

Sounds reasonable to me, but who knows what the CTA will say. They’ve been pretty proactive as far as access goes, and IMHO quite liberal on many issues. After all, they are the entity responsible for the groundbreaking one-person one-fare decision.

The times, they are a changing. It will be interesting to see what the CTA decides in the end.