Airlines’ demand for doctor’s note for obese, Canada

Air Canada and WestJet announced Jan. 8 they will follow a directive from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) and make free extra seating available to disabled and obese passengers who qualify, but only if they have a doctor’s certificate.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) says a decision to require a doctor’s note for some travellers is going to create more work for an overworked and understaffed profession, and it is writing to Canada’s two major airlines to protest the move.

“The question of whether or not someone can fit into a specific seat on a specific plane is not a medical decision,” says CMA President Robert Ouellet.

The airlines had until Jan. 10 to comply with the CTA order by introducing a “one passenger, one fare” policy. It applies to passengers who require an attendant to travel with them because of a disability – some form of paralysis, for example – and to obese or overweight passengers who cannot fit in a single seat.

“Passengers requesting extra seating will require a doctor’s certificate of their disability or need for an attendant when travelling, as well as medical approval for travel,” an Air Canada advisory states. “If the passenger’s special requirement is limited to extra seating due only to obesity, the authorization will be valid for two years in order to facilitate repeat travel.”

WestJet says that these travellers must have a medical form completed at their own expense and adds: “All medical forms submitted by a guest’s physician will be reviewed by WestJet’s medical desk nurse. The nurse may contact the guest’s physician for more information prior to making a final decision to approve or decline a request.”

The CTA says the free seats will cost Air Canada about $7 million annually and WestJet about $1.5 million. The agency decided to hear the case after receiving complaints from a traveller with severe rheumatoid arthritis and another with paraplegia, both of whom required attendants to travel with them. Another person became an intervener in the case because obesity meant she required more than one seat on planes.

“As much as we support the rights of these travellers, we do not feel that airlines should try and pass the buck to physicians over what is essentially a business matter,” Ouellet said. “We will be writing directly to Air Canada and WestJet asking that they immediately revisit their requirements for doctors’ certificates.”

Third-party forms such as doctors’ notes are a major bone of contention among physicians, who are already inundated with forms from government agencies and insurance companies. Ouellet noted that physicians are no longer asked to sign patients’ passport applications because of government rules that changed 15 months ago, “but as soon as one form is eliminated another comes along.”

The CMA feels so strongly about the issue that it recently published a physicians’ “bill of rights” on third-party forms. It is also in the midst of negotiations to simplify forms required by Canada Pension Plan administrators.

Source: Canadian Medical Association, Canada

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