Many disabled and reduced mobility air travellers still face problems of unjustified refusals, and other unfair demands when attempting to travel. As thousands of disabled Paralympians and spectators travel to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, so the Commission has published guidelines in an attempt to clarify their rights when travelling by air.
Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner responsible for Transport, has admitted that dealing with a disability in life is a big challenge and he believes that this should not become even more difficult when a PRM arrives at an airport.
The guidelines cover travellers at all EU airports and the operations of EU carriers at any airport the world; they also embrace non-EU carriers within Europe or which fly out of Europe.
The overall aim is that of clarifying existing EU rules on passenger rights for disabled people and people with reduced mobility travelling by air (according to EC Regulation 1107/2006).
Some key concerns have been highlighted, which includes pre-notification. The guidelines highlight the importance of this step for in order to allow service providers to arrange the required assistance, it is vital that disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility notify their needs at least 48 hours before the published time of departure. Whilst many PRMs do observe this function, equally many still do not.
There is also the subject of unjustified refusals. Passengers still report recurring problems with refusals and inconsistent requirements for medical certificates and for passengers to be accompanied. On the topic of medical certificates, the published guidelines clarify that medical certificates should, as a norm, not be required for those in a stable condition.
Accompanying persons or helpers are also covered. Here, the guidelines clarify what is deemed a self-reliant passenger. In such cases, a person would not expect to be accompanied, except where there are specific safety requirements involved.
Problems with medical and mobility equipment is yet another factor considered. The guidelines relating to mobility equipment underline the fact that the PRM is allowed to have two pieces of mobility equipment transported at no cost. Where a passenger is reliant on an electric wheelchair, he or she is obliged to notify the carrier at least 48 hours in advance. The guidelines further endorse the fact that recognised assistance dogs are allowed within the cabin, subject to appropriate prior notice. However, sports equipment which is not mobility equipment is covered by a carrier’s general rules on luggage.
it is worth re-iterating that passengers needing to travel with oxygen must pre-notify this requirement. The guidelines state that it is for the airline to determine whether passengers can bring their own oxygen; and there is no requirement from an airline to provide oxygen. However, this information must be made clear by any carrier concerned.
The nub of this initiative is quite clear. If the PRM desires a straightforward travel experience then he or she must inform the carrier in advance of any necessary requirements. Similarly, both airlines and airports must fully understand the breadth of their responsibility and should pay attention to the guidelines as published.
Xavier Gonzalez, who is Chief Executive Officer of the International Paralympic Committee, the body which organises the Paralympic Games, said that he welcomed the publication of these guidelines and he hoped that airports and airlines across Europe would take note of their contents.