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Canada Halifax man takes fight over airline’s treatment of obese passengers to court

Delta

Ted S. Warren/AP

Delta Airlines' practice of bumping obese travellers or making them buy two seats is discriminatory and should be banned in Canada, says a Halifax man who advocates on behalf of airline passengers.

Gabor Lukacs appeared Monday before the Federal Court of Canada, telling a three-judge panel that even though he is not overweight himself, he should have the right to file a complaint about a carrier's policy.

"The airline is discriminating based on size," Lukacs said in court. "It could be eye colour....It's a slippery slope."

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He said the airline routinely asks large passengers to move to another seat, take a later flight or buy an additional seat.

The Canadian Transportation Agency dismissed his initial complaint in November 2014, finding that Lukacs had no private or public standing in the matter because he wasn't directly affected by it.

Lukacs said dismissing his complaint simply because the issue didn't affect him personally was akin to disregarding someone's concerns over contaminated food just because they weren't made sick by it.

"Because what we are protecting here are public and societal interests, not individual interests. It doesn't matter whether the complainant is me or someone who is actually large," he said outside court in Halifax.

"The question of who the complainant is should be utterly irrelevant because it affects everybody."

He told the court that the agency's own legislation makes it clear that anyone can file a complaint.

As well, he said he has a demonstrated expertise in the area of passenger issues, having filed more than two dozen successful complaints with the agency and, as a result, bringing about improvements to the industry.

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The 46 mentions of his name in agency decisions show that he has a "long-standing, real and continuing interest in the rights of air passengers," he said.

"In the U.S. they do many things that we disagree with," Lukacs said outside court. "There are states that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation ... We are Canadians. We are different. We don't subscribe to discrimination."

The panel reserved its decision on standing to a later date.

A lawyer for Delta declined to comment outside the court.

Lukacs said the airline should use adjustable seats that can be widened for big passengers.

"The first thing they should do is leave passengers alone," he said outside court. "If a passenger can physically fit into a seat, even if they are overreaching on both sides, they should be allowed to occupy the seat."

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With files from Michael MacDonald

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