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New rights to give disabled travellers a better journey

New rights to give disabled travellers a better journey

DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT News Release (123) issued by The Government News Network on 23 July 2008

Transport Minister Rosie Winterton, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Civil Aviation Authority were at London City Airport today to outline measures coming into force this month giving up to 15 million disabled people and those with limited mobility new rights when travelling through airports in Europe.

From the 26 July 2008, a new European regulation on air travel will mean airports will have to provide services that enable disabled passengers to board, disembark and transit between flights. The rights will also apply to people with reduced mobility, such as someone with a broken leg, and will give a right to assistance once on the plane.

This is the second stage of measures designed to protect disabled passengers when travelling by air and creating a consistent standard across Europe. Last year it became illegal for airlines, travel agents or tour operators to refuse a booking on the grounds of disability or to refuse to board a disabled person who has a valid ticket and reservation, except for safety reasons.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has a responsibility to promote the new regulation to the public and any person who feels that there has been a breach of the law has the right to complain to them. The Commission will handle and monitor complaints and offer conciliation where appropriate. It can support people to take civil action and could refer the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority who will have the power to prosecute. If guilty an airport operator, airline, travel agent or tour operator could face an unlimited fine.

Rosie Winterton said:

"This is a major step in ensuring that disabled people and those with reduced mobility have the same access to the standards and services that every one expects when they fly.

"We expect all airlines and airports to maintain these high standards and for strong action to be taken against anyone repeatedly breaking the regulations across Europe."

Baroness Jane Campbell, chair of the EHRC Disability Committee, said:

"Airports have told us this will be the biggest ever single shake-up in customer service and we believe this new regulation will bring real improvements for disabled people and those with reduced mobility.

"It should also be very good for business. Disabled people alone have a spending power of some £80 billion and people who previously daren't risk flying for fear of problems, can now confidently give it a try.

"The Commission has considerable powers to ensure that the air travel industry meets its obligations and we shall be monitoring complaints carefully and ensuring these are used to improve services."

Richard Jackson, Group Director of Consumer Protection at the Civil Aviation Authority, said:

"The new regulations will bring significant benefits to disabled travellers and those with reduced mobility. We have worked closely with UK airlines, airports and tour operators to ensure that they are fully familiar with the new rules."

Notes to Editors

1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of the Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain, and aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

2. Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 imposes new legal obligations on airport operators, air carriers, their agents or tour operators. The Regulation was largely progressed under the UK's Presidency of the European Union in 2005 and means that airports will now be responsible for providing assistance to disabled travellers. This will be standard across all European airports.

3. Passengers needing assistance must not be charged, and airports handling more than 150,000 passengers a year must publish quality standards so that passengers can measure the service they receive against these standards. The Regulation requires all staff providing direct assistance to passengers to be suitably trained, and disability awareness training will need to be provided to all staff.

4. Airlines themselves must carry passengers' medical equipment and up to two pieces of mobility equipment free of charge. They must also carry assistance dogs free of charge (on permitted routes).

5. For passengers, this will mean continuity of assistance at airports across the EU. Whereas previously standards may have differed, they are now set and passengers are entitled to full assistance regardless of the airport they are travelling from. Where this is not provided, they are able to take their complaints to the Commission.

6. The Regulation comes into force in two stages. The first stage (prohibiting refusal of booking or embarkation) came into force on 26 July 2007. In very occasional circumstances these rights may not apply - for example, where there are legitimate safety or technical reasons why a disabled person cannot board an aircraft.

7. The rest of the Regulation will apply from 26 July 2008. From this date, airport managing bodies will be required to organise the provision of the services necessary to enable disabled/reduced mobility passengers to board, disembark and transit between flights, with costs recovered through a charge on airlines proportionate to the total number of passengers they carry to and from the airport. Airlines will also be required to provide certain assistance onboard the aircraft.

8. In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority has been designated to enforce the Regulation. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been designated to handle complaints from passengers (along with the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland).

9. To reflect the new European Regulation, the Department for Transport has revised its guidance to the UK aviation industry on how to improve access to air travel for disabled people. This guidance, known as the Access to Air Travel Code of Practice, has been published today, to coincide with the Regulation coming into force, and can be accessed via the DfT's website at http://www.dft.gov.uk

10. Full information is available on the Commission's website at http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/airtravel

11. For further details on the attached case studies, including contact information, please call Leonard Cheshire Disability on 0203 242 0379. Leonard Cheshire's website can be viewed at http://www.lcdisability.org/

Public Enquiries: 020 7944 8300
Department for Transport Website: http://www.dft.gov.uk

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