New government proposals could finally make it easier for disabled air passengers to secure compensation for lost and damaged wheelchairs.
Measures in the consultation on reforming air passenger rights* include several proposals that could improve the accessibility of air travel.
The consultation document says that survey data have shown that three-fifths of disabled air passengers say they find it difficult to access and use airports or air travel.
Disabled campaigners have been campaigning for at least 20 years for stronger rights for passengers whose wheelchairs and other mobility equipment is lost or damaged when carried by airlines.
But they have also highlighted other failures by airports and airlines in the provision of assistance to disabled passengers.
Wheelchairs and scooters are usually carried in the hold, but the compensation for damage is limited by the 1999 Montreal Convention because they are treated as “baggage”.
These limits do not apply if the passenger has made a “special declaration of interest” as to the value of the baggage, but this often requires payment of a fee, while airlines may still set their own limits on compensation.
The consultation also highlights concerns that not all airlines and UK airports have joined an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, which provides a way to escalate complaints – including those from disabled passengers – and avoid costly and time-consuming court action.
One of the government’s new proposals is that airlines would have to provide passengers with the full amount of compensation for any damage caused to their wheelchair or other mobility aid during a domestic UK flight.
Another is to scrap the need for disabled passengers with mobility equipment to make payments for special declarations of interest on domestic UK flights.
The consultation also asks whether all airlines flying to and from the UK, and airports, should be forced to sign up to an approved ADR scheme.
And it suggests strengthening the powers of the air travel regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority.
Caroline Stickland, chief operating officer at Transport for All (TfA) – which campaigns for an accessible transport system – welcomed the government’s proposals.
In a statement included in a government press release, she said: “Having your wheelchair or mobility aid lost or damaged by an airline doesn’t just put a damper on a holiday. It can mean a total loss of independence and mobility.
“Much more needs to be done to safeguard against this, including fair recourse to compensation for disabled passengers.
“We welcome these proposals and hope they mark the start of further positive changes in this area so that disabled people, whatever their access requirements, can travel with security and confidence when using airlines.”
TfA had failed to respond to requests to comment further on the proposals by noon today (Thursday).
The consumer rights charity Which? described the consultation, in the government press release, as “a welcome first step that must improve and strengthen consumer rights and protections so that complaints are dealt with fairly and promptly, and that passengers receive the money they are due quickly and without unnecessary hassle”.
A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission**, which has previously spoken out on disabled people’s access to air travel, said: “Disabled people often feel daunted about flying due to a fear of loss, damage or destruction of their mobility equipment.
“We have previously called for British air carriers to cover the full cost of damage caused to wheelchairs and other mobility devices and welcome the government’s move to make air travel more accessible.
“We look forward to hearing more about the consultation.”
*The consultation closes on 27 March
**EHRC’s website includes advice on disabled people’s rights when travelling by air
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