Many disabled and reduced mobility air travelers still face problems of unjustified refusals, and other unfair demands when attempting to travel. As thousands of disabled Paralympians and spectators prepare to travel to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, the Commission has published guidelines to clarify their rights when traveling by air.
Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner responsible for Transport, said: "Dealing with disability in life is a tough enough challenge: things shouldn't get even tougher when you arrive at the airport".
The guidelines cover travelers at all EU airports and the operations of EU carriers anywhere in the world. They also cover non-EU carriers within or leaving Europe.
The aim is to clarify existing EU rules on passenger rights for disabled people and people with reduced mobility traveling by air (EC Regulation 1107/2006). They deal with problems in 22 areas on access to air travel without discrimination.
The key concerns are:
1. Pre-notification: The guidelines highlight the importance of pre-notification. In order to allow service providers (airports or airlines) to arrange the required assistance, it is essential that disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility notify their needs at least 48 hours before the published time of departure.
2. Unjustified refusals: Passengers report recurring problems with refusals and inconsistent requirements for medical certificates and for passengers to be accompanied.
3. Problems with medical and mobility equipment
Commenting on the new guidelines Vice President Siim Kallas said, "My message to disabled passengers is: if you want an easier journey, tell them in advance that you are coming."
And to the airlines and airport operators I would say, "Disabled and reduced mobility passengers will usually need your assistance. These guidelines are there to help you, in helping them."
Mr Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum, said: "Quality assistance is very important for persons with disabilities and it is positively addressed into the interpretative guidelines. The European Commission chose a balanced approach and therefore manages to protect the interest of passengers with disabilities as well as passengers with reduced mobility in a proportionate manner"
Xavier Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer of the International Paralympic Committee, the organizers of the Paralympic Games, said: "We welcome the publication of these guidelines and hope airports and airlines across Europe take note immediately".
"Just like the many passengers with a disability who fly on a daily basis, our athletes regularly experience unnecessary problems traveling through airports and with airlines. This should not be the case when we are striving for equality in society"
"This summer 4,200 athletes will be traveling to London for the biggest ever Paralympic Games. The experience they have traveling on airlines and through airports could shape how they view the success of the Games regardless of their athletic performance"
Background -Despite EU legislation on passengers rights, disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility continue to come across problems when traveling by air: a lack or unequal level of quality of service in Europe; too often unjustified refusals or restrictions of reservations or boarding based on unclear safety reasons; inconsistencies in the treatment of passengers who need medical oxygen on-board; limited level of awareness of passengers regarding their rights; limited percentage (around 40%) of pre-notification of assistance needs before traveling, which is of crucial importance to allow service providers to prepare the required assistance; lack of harmonized application of the Regulation by national enforcement bodies (NEBs); and lack of effectiveness in the treatment of complaints.
The guidelines are based on a detailed assessment of the existing Regulation concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air(1) (EC Regulation 1107/2006).
The guidelines have been thoroughly discussed with all stakeholders: national authorities, aviation industry (airline and airport organizations) as well as consumer and user associations, notably those representing disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility.
The guidelines will help facilitate air travel for disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility and thus assist air carriers and airports to improve the application of the Regulation. They will also assist national authorities with the enforcement of the Regulation. They will provide a real added value to the increased travel activity by disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility expected for the Paralympics.
(1) - "PRM" Regulation (EC) n degree1107/2006, OJ L 204, 26.7.2006, p.1