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Appeals Court Upholds Wheelchair Suit Against Ryanair
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 21, 2004

LONDON, ENGLAND--Britain's Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that low-cost airline Ryanair and Stansted Airport must share the costs of providing wheelchair transportation within the airport from the airline check-in to the departure gate.

They must not charge passengers for the service.

The court's decision upheld an appeal by Ryanair over a county court ruling earlier this year which found the airline acted unlawfully by not making sure a wheelchair was provided for passenger Bob Ross. The 54-year-old has cerebral palsy and arthritis, but ordinarily does not use a wheelchair. However, Ross found that 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 banned under the Disability Discrimination Act.

In its January 2004 ruling, the lower 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 responded to the January decision by adding 35 pence to all passenger tickets. Critics accused Ryanair of making a substantial profit from the surcharge.

Ryanair's attorney said the airline was disappointed in Tuesday's ruling, and maintained that that the airport's owner, British Airports Authority, should be responsible for providing wheelchairs for passengers in their facilities.

Ryanair then portrayed itself as a champion of persons with disabilities in its efforts to get the airport to cover all of the costs.

"It highlights again that Ryanair is fighting on behalf of disabled passengers to force those few airport managers, such as BAA, to provide free of charge wheelchair access in a manner similar to most other European airports," Ryanair's head of communications, Paul Fitzsimmons, told the BBC.

A Stansted spokesperson said the airport prides itself on providing accessible facilities for all of its passengers.

"Stansted Airport . . . apologizes to Mr. Ross for not doing more to prevent discrimination against him," he said.

The DRC hopes Tuesday's ruling means Ryanair will settle similar complaints by 35 other people who have had to pay the wheelchair fee. The charity has said that if the company does not compensate them, it would file a class action suit against the airline.

"They have the firm backing of the law to ensure that fair treatment prevails," said DRC chairman Bert Massie after Tuesday's ruling.

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


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