Air travel is not without its horror stories for disabled travelers: broken or lost wheelchairs, refused admission onto planes, arguments over seating, begrudging assistance, airplane toilets to name but a few.
But it does seem that, little by little, improvements are being made. One recent, significant piece of legislation regarding air travel for disabled people is European Regulation No 1107/2006 on Disabled Persons and Persons of Reduced Mobility (PRMs Regulation) which was published by the European Commission on 5 July 2006.
The PRMs Regulation allows people with reduced mobility, which includes older people and those with a temporary mobility problem, greater access to air travel and ensures they receive assistance when traveling by air. It also stipulates that operators make available safety rules on carriage of passengers with reduced mobility. The regulations apply to any flight leaving an airport in the European Union, and also to flights on European airlines arriving in the EU.
The regulations came into force in two stages. Since 26 July 2007 it is now illegal for an airline, their agents and tour operators to refuse to accept a reservation on the grounds of disability or deny a disabled person board an aircraft when they have a valid ticket and reservation.
ERADICATING DISCRIMINATION Neil Betteridge, Chief Executive of Arthritis Care and chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) is hopeful that the new regulations will improve air travel for disabled passengers. "Until relatively recently it appeared that the new regulations would be woolly and fall short of what the DDA would offer," he explains. "So we argued they were not enough - that you can't have partial rights. Looking at the regulations now you would be hard pushed to see where the deficit would be between the regulations and DDA."
He feels that the regulations are strong enough to eradicate any remaining discriminatory policies. "Policies such as Ryanair's policy of imposing a maximum number of disabled people allowed on a flight are absurd," he adds. "I hope that the European regulations will pick up on and prevent random things like that."
But in spite of increased protection for disabled passengers discrimination does still occur. In May, three leaders of the European disability movement were unable to fly to Ljubljana for the Annual General Assembly of the European Disability Forum. The Slovenian Adria Airlines refused to let them board unless they provided a medical certificate and traveled accompanied under the pretext of safety implications.
While in June, Gregory Cronin (who has cerebral palsy) was refused access onto a Ryanair flight. Although Gregory has communication difficulties he fully understands people and has traveled all over the world on his own. Yet the Ryanair captain, who never met Gregory, decided he was too severely disabled to travel alone. Gregory says: "I notified them that I was a wheelchair user and filled in all the necessary forms. I was left on a lift outside the plane with nobody telling me what was happening. I felt humiliated, especially as this decision was made about me without ever meeting me - how disgusting to treat a human being in this way! In the end I was simply told I had to go home."
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