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AIR TRAVEL REGULATIONS

What are your rights as a disabled passenger when you take a flight in Europe?


Regulation 1107/2006 applies to air passenger services to, from, or in transit through an EU member state. It places responsibility for meeting the needs of disabled passengers on the airport managing body. It applies to anyone whose mobility is reduced due to a physical disability, intellectual impairment, or other problem caused by age or disability.


The assistance provided must include:

• Moving to/from the designated point of arrival

• Checking/collecting luggage

• Boarding/disembarking the aircraft

• Stowing/retrieving luggage on board

• Completing security, customs and immigration procedures


Airports cannot charge individuals for using these services.


Standards of Service

The regulation requires the managing body to set, and adequately resource, quality standards. Staff providing direct assistance must be trained to meet the needs of people with different disabilities. Staff dealing directly with the travelling public must have regular disability equality and awareness training.


Responsibility of Passengers

You should notify the airline or travel agent of your requirements at least 48 hours ahead of travel. If no prior notification has been made, the airport must make “all reasonable efforts” to provide assistance.


Responsibility of Airlines

The airline must seat you where you are most comfortable on the plane, provide help to get to and from a toilet, and carry essential pieces of mobility equipment (two per passenger) free of charge. Airlines cannot refuse to carry you on grounds of your disability except:

• In order to meet applicable safety requirements

• If the size of the aircraft or its doors makes embarkation or carriage impossible

• If the airline has number limits on disabled people. Some airlines impose their own arbitrary limit.


Solo travelling

The regulation says that air carriers may require a disabled passenger to be accompanied by another person to provide the assistance they need. They are not obliged to offer a free seat to the person with you, but they should sit them next to you. If you are alone another passenger on the flight can be asked to take on the role of accompanying person for emergency purposes only.

An air carrier may require you to be accompanied ONLY if you cannot:

• Fasten, adjust and unfasten your safety belt

• Reach an exit unaided and evacuate the aircraft in case of emergency.

• Reach and fi t an oxygen mask or lifejacket

• Understand the safety briefing and instructions.


Seating

There is no rule in Europe on where a disabled passenger can sit, but you cannot be given a seat in an exit row, or one that impedes the crew in their duties, obstructs access to emergency equipment, or impedes emergency evacuation. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is looking at safety issues on board for disabled passengers, but the process will take years to complete.


Is the regulation working?

In most EU countries disabled people are unaware of the existence of the Regulation or their rights. One airport said that they didn’t tell people how to complain because it would be too complicated! A recent survey in one country indicated that 70% of disabled passengers didn’t know they had any rights. Many disabled passengers do not see any improvement in service when they pre-book. Often assistance is not available as requested, or can only be found after check-in. Some airports charge airlines for passengers who need assistance but haven’t pre-booked it.


Complaints

If you believe the Regulation has been breached, bring the matter to the attention of the airport or airline. If you are not satisfied you can complain to the National Enforcement Body (NEB) in the country the incident took place.

Feedback through the European Disability Forum suggests that many people do not complain because:

• They do not know their rights

• They don’t know how to complain

• They don’t speak the language of the country in which the problem occurred

• They don’t think it is worth the effort as there is no compensation available under the law.

Lost or damaged mobility equipment is one of the most common problems faced by disabled air travellers, and it is not always clear who is liable. Replacement wheelchairs are seldom available and rarely appropriate, compensation is inadequate.


Conclusion

This Regulation has not yet made the difference that was hoped for. Greater clarity and a more consistent approach to implementation are needed, along with clearer quality standards and high quality staff training.

USA requirements are similar to the EU in some areas, but quite different in others. The USA impose very high penalties for noncompliance. Perhaps Europe should take a leaf out of their book!


Janet Moore, Information Officer at DMUK




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Air Travel Regulations