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Ryanair Appeal Delayed While Court Staff Hunt For Wheelchair
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 9, 2004

LONDON, ENGLAND--The court case involving an airline that charged a passenger extra for the use of an airport wheelchair was delayed Monday, because the Royal Court of Justice in London had difficulty locating a wheelchair for the same man.

Ryanair's appeal hearing began a half hour late as court staff searched for a wheelchair for Bob Ross, who has cerebral palsy and arthritis.

After a wheelchair was finally located and brought to the courtroom, Lord Justice Brooke, who is heading the three-judge Appeal Court panel, asked for a report on the difficulties Ross faced when he arrived at the court.

"The court has to comply with the Act like anyone else," Brooke said, referring to the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995.

The court is hearing an appeal by Ryanair over a county court ruling earlier this year which found the low-cost airline acted unlawfully by not making sure a wheelchair was provided for Ross. The 54-year-old ordinarily does not use a wheelchair, but the one kilometer distance from the check-in desk to the airplane at Stansted Airport was too far for him to walk.

While other airlines cover the cost of such wheelchairs at all of their airports, Ryanair would not cover the cost at Stansted and five other airports. The airline charged Ross an £18 fee (about $33 US) for the use of a wheelchair each way. Ross and Britain's Disability Rights Commission, which represented him in the case, said the fee was a form of discrimination.

In its January 2004 ruling, the court awarded Ross £1,336 ($2,485 US), which included his original £36 for renting a wheelchair on a round trip journey to France, along with the £300 purchase of his own wheelchair, and £1,000 for injury to his feelings.

Ryanair claims that the airport's owner, British Airports Authority, should be responsible for providing wheelchairs for passengers.

"The responsible authority should be the airport operator which at Stansted was a 'highly profitable' business which had made a £137m profit in the last year," said Ryanair attorney Romie Tager QC.

The DRC wants Ryanair to compensate 35 other people with disabilities who have complained about having to pay the wheelchair fee. The charity said that if the company does not compensate them, it would file a class action suit against the airline.

"Why is the Ryanair case important?" by BBC News Online disability affairs reporter Geoff Adams-Spink (January 30, 2004)


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