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MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
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EasyJet on trial in France for refusing disabled passengers
Agence France Presse
An Easyjet plane lands at Gatwick Airport in southern England on December 7, 2013. AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT
An Easyjet plane lands at Gatwick Airport in southern England on December 7, 2013. AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT
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PARIS: EasyJet goes to court in France this week to fight two separate legal challenges by disabled passengers who it refused to fly, in the latest accusations of discrimination against the budget airline.

The British company is being challenged over its refusal to allow two female wheelchair-users -- one of whom was travelling to her son's funeral in Portugal -- to fly unaccompanied.

The airline has argued that it acted for safety reasons, and in compliance with British and European laws.

The first case, to be heard Monday in the Paris appeals court, dates back to March 2010 when Marie-Patricia Hoarau boarded an EasyJet plane from Paris to the French Riviera city of Nice.

Hoarau, who has been in a wheelchair for decades following a mountain bike accident, had travelled from Nice to the French capital the previous day without any problems.

But this time round, cabin crew asked her whether she could get to an emergency exit on her own. When she said no, they told her she had to be accompanied by someone.

A pilot travelling on the same flight agreed to step in and sit next to the 39-year-old, but the airline's management said this was not adequate and ordered the captain to disembark Hoarau.

Hoarau later took another flight, saying she was "humiliated and rejected", but she decided to take EasyJet and the captain to court after contacting France's disabled association APF.

In May 2012, a French court let the captain off but fined the airline 5,000 euros ($6,900), and ordered it to give Hoarau an additional 5,000 euros in damages.

The British company appealed the verdict, saying it was in compliance with British law when it refused to let her board for security reasons.

The second case, to be heard on Thursday in the Paris suburb of Bobigny, involves another wheelchair user who was refused onto a flight from Paris because she was travelling alone.

She was forced to buy a last-minute return ticket with another company to get to her son's funeral in Portugal.

This is not the first time that EasyJet has been taken to court over allegations of discrimination.

In January last year, a French court fined the airline 70,000 euros for refusing to allow three wheelchair users to board its planes between November 2008 and January 2009, in what a lawyer for the plaintiffs said was a "landmark ruling".

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