Dr. Lukács goes to Ottawa (op-ed)

Thursday, 5 October, 2017


Yesterday, Dr. Gábor Lukács, Air Passenger Rights Advocate, went to Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa to present his arguments in the case Delta Air Lines Inc. v. Gábor Lukács (SCC case summary & factums). Dr. Lukács is a respondent for this case because he won in the Federal Court of Appeal (CBC news) in September 2016. And then Delta won the right to appeal that FCA ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada in February 2017. (note: you can watch the hearing webcast video archive (~3 hours) to get a closer look.)

As Dr. Lukács put it in the 2016 CBC news interview,

“The underlying issue is, can you stand up for your neighbour? For the weak? For those who may already be disadvantaged in some way in society?

I first interviewed Dr. Lukács in August 2013 for the video report and article “Halifax mathematician gets bumped Air Canada passengers $200, $400, or $800 compensation“. During this 4+ years, I’m still amazed that a regular Canadian non-lawyer (math professor/researcher by training) has volunteered so much of his free time in helping others. And sometimes even risking being sued (and actually being) by airlines which have teams of lawyers and money.

To me, it was great to be able to video interview Dr. Lukács right inside the Supreme Court gown room where lawyers prepare their formal court attires. At the end of the hearing yesterday, it was nice to see lawyers from both sides and Dr. Lukács shook hands. I believe parties from both sides can violently disagree with each others’ ideas and submissions but it is nice to be civil after arguments are heard.

Over four years later, I still find the following 2013 answers given by Dr. Lukács very illuminating and insightful of why he spend so much of his free time in helping the Canadian flying public,

“Upon hearing the interviewer suggesting this delay compensation [$200, $400, $800 from Air Canada] should be named after Lukács, similar to mathematical theorems were named after Euclid or Gauss, Lukács paused to think for a moment and then thoughtfully insisted that,

“… it doesn’t matter where it was me or somebody else who got those [air passenger] rights. What is important [is] that those rights are put in place. And that people will now have better treatment. It doesn’t matter it was me, or my neighbour, or my friend or you, or that person in another city who made those changes. For me, it’s a question of I’ve learned enough about airlines to know that something are just wrong and against the law. And when I happened to see that, like in the case of what happened in Ottawa airport, I cannot just walk by and do nothing. I feel a responsibility.

Knowledge gives some responsibility. When you know that something is wrong, and you have quite a good idea of how to fix it, that does impose on you some level of moral responsibility, social responsibility. And so the issue of air passenger rights needs a face in Canada. I don’t see myself as a full-time passenger rights advocate, I am a mathematician after all. But certainly, I know that I am able to bring, through the agency, to the Canadian public some prospectives & arguments that benefit everybody. So I do it.””

Concluding thoughts

For years, I’ve gained inspirations from this one particular quote I LOVE“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” by Margaret Mead.

Seeing what Dr. Lukács has been trying to achieve by himself, it seems to me we sometimes doesn’t even need “a small group … people“. At times, all we need is one person to try to make a difference for the better in our increasingly perilous world. Do what each of us can, in the best way we know how. Success is never guaranteed but we and no one else can blame ourselves after we try the hardest we can.

P.S. Have a watch again of the action inside the Supreme Court yesterday.

Justice Russell Brown asks Dr. Gábor Lukács Questions during Supreme Court case with Delta

P.P.S. I’ve always found the political comedy-drama “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington“, a film is about a newly appointed United States Senator who fights against a corrupt political system, insightful and illuminating. As I get older, I find I’m not naive enough to ignore the bad but I’m more willing & eager to look for the good each and everyone of us can do in our own area of interest and competence.

There is no reason you or I can’t be our own “Mr. Smith”, “Dr. Lukács”, … and going to our own “Washington”, “Ottawa”, … which to me stands for ideals we strive to achieve.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Speech

P.P.P.S. Speaking about theorems being named after mathematicians, I still hope Dr. Lukács’ Air Passenger Rights work won’t slow down his mathematics research as I hope to see a math theorem bearing his name one of these days.


Too fat to fly Southwest Airlines? Can you be too fat to fly in Canada?

Sunday, 21 February, 2010

In the last few days, I have been deeply disturbed by the horrible treatment of Kevin Smith and Natali by Southwest Airlines. You can hear more details in Kevin’s two detailed podcasts,

Go Fuck Yourself, Southwest Airlines – In which, surely, our hero is Too Fat To Fly.” and

Thinicism – In which Natali tells her story.

Note: To be absolutely clear, since both Kevin and Natali can put their seats’ handles down, they are definitely NOT “too fat to fly”.

As I kept thinking how shitty Kevin and Natali had been treated, I knew I had to do something more. So, this past Friday (Feb 19) when I dropped my better half to the airport for her to have some fun in Vancouver, I took the opportunity to ask the nice WestJet check-in lady about their “person of size” policy. You see, I know WestJet modelled itself after Southwest Airlines, I was expecting the worst.

Well, to my surprise, the lady mentioned something called “one-person-one-fare” (more on this later) in response. My initial thought was: Cool, one person (regardless of size) pays one fare only, thats nice.

Upon further research, I found that in Canada, we have Canadian Transportation Agency helping consumers. From their website,

If you have a dispute related to federally-regulated modes of transportation, the Canadian Transportation Agency may be able to help. The Agency can bring you and the transportation operator together informally, help you to understand each other’s needs and interests, and find a solution that works for both.

If you think the above words are just some toothless idle BS, then you will be quite wrong. In fact, WestJetAir Canada, and Air Canada Jazz, weren’t nice “willingly”!

The “one-person-one-fare” policy was an order from Canadian Transportation Agency! And WestJetAir Canada, and Air Canada Jazz appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and lost (both the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the airlines’ application). Here is an excerpt,

In February 2008, Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet sought leave to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal.

In May 2008, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the airlines’ application.

In August 2008, the airlines applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s Decision to dismiss their application.

On November 20, 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet’s application for leave to appeal. The Agency’s January 2008 Decision stands.

See reports from CBC News and Canada.com.

I am not a lawyer, but for persons functionally disabled by obesity, the “one-person-one-fare” policy applies. So you will only need to pay one fare.

And for other persons of size, I strongly suspect if you can put the seat handles down, you will be OK. You see, with the “one-person-one-fare” policy in effect for over a year, I seriously doubt any Canadian airlines’ flight crews will make any fuzz for people flying within Canada. They know they are in the losing end of this argument.

Well, the WestJet check-in crew member was quick to tell me about “one-person-one-fare” policy, so I think they are all well-trained by now.

Please share your thoughts flying within Canada (or US).

Note: I am in the process of gathering research materials and planning to write a business case about this mess.

Feb 27, 2012 Update: Thanks to a reader’s insightful comment and most importantly the case and decision reference for Canada’s “one-person-one-fare policy”, I have now included the case links here for reference,

* Canadian Transportation Agency decides in favour of one-person-one-fare policy – OTTAWA – January 10, 2008

* Decision No. 6-AT-A-2008 – January 10, 2008


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