Thursday, 21 June 2012

Challenges of air travel

Most of us take it for granted that we can reach any destination within a frame of few hours, making use of advanced air travel options. However, for many disabled consumers air travel still is associated with lots of problems and unfair treatment. In order to fight this the European Commission has published guidelines on air travellers' rights. (What passengers with reduced mobility need to know when travelling by air) (based on the Regulation EC 1107/2006)

In general, persons with reduced mobility have a right to travel by air, but there are certain obligations placed on them, as well. Most importantly, a disabled person needs to notify airports and airlines about the need for special assistance at least 48 hours before the published time of departure. This allows the service providers to prepare special means that may be required (currently, only ca 40% of passengers pre-notify their assistance needs). A person with reduced mobility should not be refused travel on the ground that they don't present a medical certificate (if the medical condition is stable - e.g., a blind person) or that they don't have an accompanying person (if they are self-reliant). Moreover, such persons are allowed to travel with two pieces of mobility equipment (transported for free), a guide or assistance dog. Still, despite the Regulation binding the airlines already they continue to hinder air travel for disabled passengers and discriminate against them, for example:

"A senior UN official was denied boarding on a flight from Heathrow to Geneva because he was unaccompanied. The official was a paraplegic frequent traveller who had travelled unaccompanied for fifteen years."

"3 passengers on internal French flights were denied boarding because they were unaccompanied. They later successfully challenged the decision in court. The airline and ground-handling company faced substantial fines for non-compliance."

It gets a bit complicated when a passenger requires oxygen on board. The airlines may determine themselves whether to allow access to passengers with their own oxygen and they are not required to provide oxygen themselves either. This may mean that such passengers won't be in practice allowed to travel by air. The guidelines aim at least to provide passengers with certain clarity, advising airlines to make their rules on travelling with oxygen clear.