Pregnant women and children ‘could swamp airlines with access demands’


New guidance could see older people, children, obese people and pregnant women receive protection under European laws on air travel for disabled people, a leading user-led organisation has warned.

The air travel regulations, introduced across the European Union in 2007 and 2008, were intended to provide disabled people and those with restricted mobility with equal opportunities to travel by air.

The regulations 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.

But new draft guidance, produced by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE) – and intended to help the industry prepare for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – suggests extending these rights to other groups with temporarily-reduced mobility, such as children, older people, pregnant women and obese people.

In a letter to Siim Kallas, vice-president of the European Commission with responsibility for transport, the European Disability Forum (EDF) warns that such a move would cause “considerable operational difficulties” for the aviation industry and make it harder for disabled people to travel by air.

EDF says in the letter that its concerns about the guidance appear to have been ignored by DG MOVE, as a second draft of the guidance has failed to take its concerns into account.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, says in the letter that disabled people could find it harder to obtain assistance because of an increase in the number of groups needing to alert airlines in advance of flying.

He warns that this could mean disabled people being “denied boarding as the number of people in the flight needing assistance may increase considerably”.

And he says that airports and airlines could be “faced with unprecedented demands for assistance, may require justification and proof for passengers or make wrong assumptions on real needs creating further discrimination for persons with disabilities”.

He concludes that the guidelines would “seriously undermine” the purpose of the regulations, which was to protect disabled people against discrimination, and ensure they receive assistance when flying.

He says: “We believe that the proposal for guidelines should be withdrawn as, despite its good intentions, it will undoubtedly water down or even shelve the regulation and further exacerbate problems in its implementation.”

A spokesman for the European Commission said: “We confirm receipt of this letter, and the commission will of course attentively consider the concerns raised in the letter.”

The regulations are enforced in the UK by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which declined to comment on the proposed new guidance as it said its actions would be based on the legislation itself rather than any guidelines.

Meanwhile, CAA has launched a campaign to show the aviation industry how to prepare and load electric mobility aids onto aircraft safely, and ensure they arrive undamaged.

It said the campaign followed “several safety incidents” involving electric mobility aids, including one which caught fire as it was being unloaded.

CAA has produced a training video, which covers each step of the process, from booking a flight, through check-in, to loading an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter into an aircraft’s hold.

It has also published an official safety notice to remind all airlines and airports of their obligations.

29 March 2012