The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was never intended to cover the rights of disabled passengers onboard an aircraft and are limited to regulating policies and procedures of airlines at UK airports and booking procedures. Following a long consultation period EC Regulation 1107/2006 implements the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air. The initial part of the Regulations came into force on 26 July 2007, with the rest now being implemented from 26 July 2008. Accordingly airlines and airports are gearing up for the new regime so that they can fully comply by the start date.
The definition of a “disabled person” or a “person with reduced mobility” is wide and covers “any person where mobility is reduced due to any physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary) intellectual disability or impairment or any other cause of disability or age, and whose situation needs appropriate attention and the adaptation to his or her particular needs of the service made available to all passengers.”
Since 26 July 2007, airlines, agents and tour operators have been banned from refusing bookings on the ground of disability or reduced mobility unless they can show that this was to meet international safety requirements, EC or national law or if the size of the aircraft or its door made embarkation or carriage physically impossible.
New rules from 26 July 2008
From the start date: -
- Airports dealing with more than 150,000 passengers a year must have arrangements in place to assist disabled passengers in the airport terminal and this must be free. This will mean giving help from point of arrival to point of boarding and assistance for arriving disabled passengers from the aircraft to the airport exit. Clear signage for this must be available. Assistance will be given in storing and retrieving hand baggage on the aircraft at embarkation/disembarkation. Assistance in airports should include wheelchairs, lifts and other necessary equipment.
- Airports must handle necessary mobility equipment and provide temporary replacement for any lost or damaged equipment. Similarly they should have a system of handling assistance dogs. Airports and airlines must provide staff with training on disability awareness.
- An airline shall provide at no cost, carriage of recognised assistance dogs (if allowed by national laws); free carriage of medical equipment and up to two pieces of mobility equipment for each passenger.
- Airlines will be required to provide information about it’s safety rules for disabled passengers and any restrictions due to the size of aircraft. Reasonable efforts should be made to provide a suitable seat for the passenger and sit carers next to them, subject to safety requirements and availability. Assistance should be provided to the passenger to get to the toilet.
- Where a passenger advises of a requirement for assistance at least 48 hours before departure, then this information must be transmitted at least 36 hours before departure to the airports dealing with departure, transit and arrival and to the operating airline.
These Regulations will be enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority who have indicated that they will prosecute cases “of strategic importance.”
Some airlines have already included their disabled passenger policy in their Conditions of Carriage. For example, as the Regulations currently say little about the services to be provided to disabled passengers during the flight, some Conditions cover those who need a continuous supply of oxygen, and when a carer is needed .
It will be important for airlines to establish procedures at the point of sale to clarify the nature and extent of passengers’ needs in this area, to ensure that compliance is reached. In view of the volume of online and automated bookings, airline systems should highlight how this important information is to be communicated.
Particular areas of concern for airlines and airports will be medical clearances to confirm passengers are medically fit to fly, the circumstances where disabled persons need to travel with a carer or not, the carriage of assistance dogs, whether essential medical supplies and equipment can be carried in the cabin or not, and whether particular aircraft types prescribe a limited number of disabled passengers onboard. Consideration may be given to alteration of aircraft cabins although this may well be a costly exercise. Both airports and airlines will need to consider how to manage this category of passenger when things go wrong – when a flight is cancelled or delayed or where the only option might be re-routing with another carrier who may not be compliant.
The industry has been aware for a while that these regulations are coming and hopefully most will have their policies in place ready for the implementation date.