Airline defeated over wheelchair charge

A disabled man won his court battle yesterday against the budget airline Ryanair for charging him £18 to use a wheelchair at Stansted airport.

Judge Crawford Lindsay, sitting at Central London County Court, ruled that Ryanair had discriminated against Bob Ross, a cerebral palsy sufferer, and should have provided a wheelchair free of charge.

A Ryanair spokesman described the judgment as "defective" and said it would be forced to charge every passenger a 50p levy to meet the cost of wheelchair provision.

The case was brought by the Disability Rights Commission on behalf of Mr Ross, 54, who normally uses crutches but needed a wheelchair for his journey through the airport to board a flight in February 2002. He was charged the same amount on his return. Judge Lindsay said: "The reasons for Ryanair's policy were commercial. They ... should have changed that policy so as to pay the cost for all passengers who required a wheelchair."

He awarded Mr Ross £1,336 in compensation to cover the £36 cost of hiring a wheelchair, the purchase of a wheelchair by him which cost £300 and £1,000 for injury to his feelings.

Ryanair is facing further action and could have to pay compensation to 35 passengers who have also complained about the wheelchair charge.

Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said: "It beggars belief that a company with £165m annual profits last year should quibble over meeting the cost of providing disabled people with a wheelchair."

Ryanair argued in court that it was forced to charge passengers in order to keep its costs down. A spokesman said the company would appeal.