Equal Rights on Flights: disability movement demands stronger protections

Equal Rights on Flights: disability movement demands stronger protections

The report “End the nightmare: Passengers with disabilities deserve to travel by air”, released today, calls for stronger legal protections for persons with disabilities when flying – especially by eradicating the common cases of denial of boarding and increasing companies’ liability on damaging assistive devices, such as wheelchairs.

The document assembles a series of stories illustrating the very real damage to the lives of persons with disabilities resulting from often arbitrary decisions by airlines. The lack of clearly defined legal rules and standards leaves passengers at the mercy of confusing rules, applied differently depending on the airline. A clear example was publicised last year by the Washington Post when a U.S. congressman was denied boarding by Lufthansa on a flight to Italy due to his wheelchair. There are cases of passengers not being able to make a return trip – a complainant shared that Brussels Airlines took his wheelchair, but when he tried to board the return flight on a different EU airline, they refused to take it.

Destruction and damage to assistive devices are widespread. For example, a person explained how they saw their wheelchair become unusable before their eyes as it fell through a gap in the conveyor belt. These types of damages are not just an inconvenience – they are a major issue. Damaged wheelchairs, besides costing tens of thousands of dollars to repair – pose a life-threatening risk, as shown by the tragic death of Engracia Figueroa in the United States.

Denial of boarding and damaged assistive equipment are still common occurrences.

This is why the European Disability Forum (EDF) demands that the European Commission revise regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 on the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air as part of their upcoming revision of passenger rights’ regulations and:

  • Eradicate the common cases of denial of boarding that still happen to persons with disabilities;
  • Introduce the right to a swift and fair compensation if the air carrier still denies boarding;
  • Oblige the air carrier to provide a ticket free of charge if they request an accompanying person (as is the case in other transport modes).

“We also demand that the Regulations establish the companies’ full liability for damaged and lost mobility equipment,” EDF says.

“Our report clearly shows the waking nightmares lived by persons with disabilities when they simply try to do what millions do daily. We are people – we travel for work, love, family, and fun – airlines need to start recognising this,” said Gunta Anca, EDF’s Vice-President.

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