Two Court of Appeal rulings triggered a war of words between travel giant Thomas Cook and Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Court of Appeal dismissed two separate cases involving wheelchair-bound passengers, ruling that the Montreal Convention, a framework of international rules and regulations on air travel, takes precedence over British law.
"In my judgment it is clear from the decision of the House of Lords in Sidhu there are no exceptions to the exclusivity of the Convention. The EC Regulation does not override the Convention and Regulation 9 of the UK Regulations must be read to accord with the EC Regulation. There is no breach of the principle of equivalence. Neither the EC Regulation nor Regulation 9 of the UK Regulations creates a private law cause of action sounding in damages. The Appellant may invoke the administrative enforcement regime which is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority." The Honourable Mr Justice Supperstone said, dismissing Tony Hook's appeal.
On Monday, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it may seek to challenge a Court of Appeal ruling on the issue in the Supreme Court. However, a formal decision is yet to be announced.
“The decision renders the regulation regarding air travel for disabled passengers toothless. It offers no protection for disabled travellers who are discriminated against while flying. It also means that disabled passengers cannot get compensation even after an airline has been found to be discriminatory by the Courts.” John Wadham, Group Director of Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said.
On Tuesday, Travel giant Thomas Cook decided to state its position. "There is quite simply no additional right to further compensation for injury to feelings, and we have been concerned by comments made by the EHRC which have misrepresented the Court of Appeal's decision which makes it clear that the protections offered under 1107 continue to be in place," Andy Cooper, Thomas Cook UK & Ireland's Director of Government and External Affairs, told Reduced Mobility Rights. "Thomas Cook will continue to give a high level of assistance and support to any PRM's flying on its airline."
Asked if Thomas Cook Airlines believe that, because of the ruling, compliance to regulation EU 1107/2006 is not mandatory, and the regulation has to be treated as a set of guidelines, the tour operator made a reassuring statement. "Thomas Cook Airlines continues to regard Regulation 1107 as imposing a set of binding obligations that can be legally enforced by the CAA. It does not impose a voluntary code, and we agree entirely with the findings of the judges in the Court of Appeal in that regard."
The UK Civil Aviation Authority is the national enforcement body of regulation 1107/2006."The CAA is currently considering the judgement from the Court of Appeal in the matter of Stott vs. Thomas Cook and Hook vs. British Airways," a spokesperson for the CAA told Reduced Mobility Rights. "This is a complex legal area and alongside the Department for Transport, which is responsible for the legislation in this area, we are carefully considering the implications of the ruling, and how best to address the issues that it raises," the CAA spokesperson added.
British Airways is the other airline involved in the rulings. Asked if BA think the ruling will change the way assistance is provided to PRMs traveling on British Airways, the airline also made a reassuring statement.
"We treat all of our customers with the utmost dignity and respect and take our obligations to those with reduced mobility very seriously. We carry around 400,000 people with disabilities each year and work hard to provide help and assistance throughout the whole journey process from the point of booking to the final arrival," a spokesperson for British Airways told Reduced Mobility Rights. "We understand that we have legal obligations to passengers with reduced mobility, and we are absolutely confident that we meet these obligations."
Reduced Mobility Rights understands the EHRC decision of taking the cases of Tony Hook against British Airways and Christopher Stott against Thomas Cook to the Supreme Court is imminent.
Despite reassurances from BA and Thomas Cook, human rights campaigners remain concerned. "This decision threatens to render anti-discrimination legislation ineffective in most in-flight incidents of discrimination by airlines," Gwendolen Morgan, a solicitor specialising in public law, human rights and equality law at Bindmans LLP said. "In short, once a boarding pass has been issued, there would be no remedy of damages for injury to feelings - although one could still seek a declaration that there had been discrimination."