CTA Ruling on Allergies: Buffer Zone Update

In a previous post, we wrote about a January 6, 2010 decision of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) on a complaint by two passengers who claimed to have experienced difficulties relating to peanut and nut allergies when travelling with Air Canada. Although the passengers were found to be persons with a disability, the CTA found that they did not encounter obstacles to their mobility and declined to ban the service of nuts and nut products on aircraft. However, the CTA did find that an appropriate accommodation was to separate the passengers by seating them in an “exclusion or buffer zone”.

 What was not resolved in the decision was the length of time which would constitute reasonable advance notification by passengers that they require a “buffer zone” and the recommended size of buffer zones within the different type of aircraft. The CTA directed that both sides provide submissions on those issues.

The CTA has now received submissions on behalf of Air Canada and the passengers and has rendered a further decision on the appropriate notification period and buffer zone (see here). Air Canada submitted that advance notice of at least 48 hours should be provided but it would continue with its practice of trying to accommodate passengers who might provide less notice. The passengers suggested that no nuts be served at all or that less time (24 hours) be required. The CTA found the proposal of Air Canada requiring 48-hour advance notice to be reasonable.

Air Canada proposed differing sizes for the buffer zone depending upon class of seats and type of aircraft. The passengers argued that a buffer zone would not assist in protecting those with allergies and any buffer zone would not prevent those outside the area from introducing peanut and nut allergens. The CTA cited the opinions of all experts who confirmed that it is impossible to create an allergen-free environment in the aircraft cabin. The CTA accepted all of the proposals put forward by Air Canada for the size of the buffer zones. The buffer zone for international wide-body aircraft executive-class seating will be the pod-seat occupied by the person with the disability. For business-class seating, the single bank of seats in which the person with the allergy is seated is an appropriate buffer zone. For economy class, the buffer zone will be the bank of seats in which the person with the disability is seated together with the bank of seats directly in front of and behind that person. If there is a bulkhead either directly in front of or behind the person, that will be part of the buffer zone.

The CTA ordered that only peanut-free and nut-free foods are to be served within the buffer zone and Air Canada personnel are to provide a briefing to passengers within the buffer zone that they can only eat foods that are peanut free and nut free. Air Canada was ordered to advise the CTA whether it would implement the accommodations set out in the decision and how it intended to do so. Alternatively, if Air Canada objects, it is to advise the CTA how the accommodations create an undue hardship for the airline.

*photo courtesy of Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net