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No compensation for injury to feelings

A disabled passenger has lost his legal bid for compensation for injury to feelings over the way he was treated by Thomas Cook staff on a flight to Zante in 2008.

Mr Stott is paralysed from the shoulders down and a permanent wheelchair user. He has double incontinence and uses a catheter. When travelling by air, he depends on his wife to manage his incontinence, help him to eat, and change his sitting position.

Mr Stott booked return flights with Thomas Cook. He telephoned Thomas Cook’s helpline twice, informing them that he had paid to be seated with his wife, and was assured that this would happen. However, on arrival at check-in for the return journey, Mr and Mrs Stott were told that they would not be seated together. They protested, but were eventually told that the seat allocations could not be changed.

Mr Stott had difficulties in boarding the aircraft, and was not sufficiently assisted by Thomas Cook staff. He felt extremely embarrassed, humiliated, and angry. He was eventually helped into his seat, with his wife sitting behind him. This arrangement was problematic, since Mrs Stott could not properly assist her husband during the three hour and twenty minute flight. She had to kneel or crouch in the aisle to attend to his personal needs, obstructing the cabin crew and other passengers. The cabin crew made no attempt to ease their difficulties.

He brought a claim under the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1895) (“the UK Regulations”), which implement EC disability rights regulations (“the EC Regulations”).

The UK Regulations enable civil proceedings in UK courts for breaches of the EC Regulations, and state that compensation awarded may include sums for injury to feelings. The EC Regulations require Community air carriers (among other things) to make reasonable efforts to provide accompanying persons with a seat next to a disabled person. Mr Stott claimed that Thomas Cook had breached this duty, and sought a declaration and damages for injury to his feelings.

However, Thomas Cook argued that it had made reasonable efforts and that the Montreal Convention (“the Convention”), an international treaty which governs the liability of air carriers in international carriage by air, precluded a damages award for injury to feelings. Under Articles 17 and 29 of the Convention, damages can only be awarded for harm to passengers in cases of death or bodily injury.

The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which has now ruled that although Mr Stott was treated in a humiliating and disgraceful manner by Thomas Cook, his claim falls within the substantive and temporal scope of the Convention, and as a result damages cannot be awarded for injury to feelings.

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