Air travel ‘still second rate’ despite EU laws


Disabled people are still receiving a second-rate service from the air travel industry, say campaigners, more than two years after new EU regulations were brought in to combat discrimination.

A new report by the Trailblazers campaigning network found many young disabled people faced problems across the tourism industry, including extra costs, poor access information and disability awareness and a shortage of accessible hotel rooms.

More than 200 young disabled people took part in a survey for the All Inclusive? report, with many raising concerns about the inaccessibility of hotels, airlines, tourist attractions, travel agents and travel websites.

Among the findings, more than half of those questioned said the inaccessibility of aircraft had a major impact on their choice of holiday destination.

Issues that network members have encountered with air travel include problems boarding planes, being asked to pay extra because of their impairment, staff attitudes, and poor treatment of their mobility equipment.

The report is the latest to be produced by Trailblazers, a campaigning network of young disabled people run by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

More than two years ago, the European Union introduced regulations that provided new rights for disabled people to access air travel, including booking flights, checking in at the airport, assistance to board the plane, and compensation for damaged equipment.

Trailblazer Jagdeep Sehmbi, who travelled to Canada last summer, said she was “devastated” when she found her electric wheelchair at baggage reclaim and saw the back was bent out of shape and the headrest broken. On a previous occasion, her wheelchair had been even more badly damaged, with parts “lying all over the airport floor”.

She said: “It is very upsetting when a piece of equipment that I am dependant on for independence on a day-to-day basis is damaged because of a lack of care or ignorance on the part of an airline company.”

Earlier this year, in a review of the first 18 months of the EU regulations, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) called for: travel companies to improve access to booking tickets and information on assistance; better sharing of information between airports and airlines; and improved awareness of the new laws by airport staff.

A CAA spokeswoman said the report concluded that the regulations had improved the experience of disabled people when travelling by air.

But she added: “However, the CAA feels further improvements are possible, and is driving them by working with stakeholders including disability groups and the aviation industry to develop best practice guidance for industry and to consider ways of increasing consumers’ awareness of their rights.”

And ABTA – which represents travel agents and tour operators – has launched an online training course on accessible travel, together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

25 August 2010


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