Major proposal for first-ever European disability legislation

16 February 2005


Briefing document – Regulation on rights of disabled air passengers

Major proposal for first-ever European disability legislation announced by Commission Vice-President BARROT

Wednesday, 16 February 2005 the European Commission tabled a proposal for a Regulation on the rights of passengers with reduced mobility when travelling by air which will prohibit discrimination against disabled air passengers.

This proposal, once it is adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (a process that will last about one year) will make a big difference to the lives of disabled people.

The Regulation would apply to all airlines (low cost and big name), all airports (public and private) and all passengers.

The future Regulation will mean that all disabled people in all Member States of the EU are protected by law when they are discriminated against. A disabled air passenger, Mr Ross, successfully brought an action against Ryanair in a high-profile case in the UK last year. However, most disabled people in the EU currently cannot rely on national legislation like the UK Disability Discrimination Act. Under the proposal for a Regulation, all disabled air passengers in Europe have the same rights.



•  prohibit refusal of booking or refusal of carriage to disabled persons because of their disability;

•  prohibit charging disabled passengers for the assistance they need

•  ensure the provision of high levels of assistance for disabled passengers

•  establish a centralised charging system – the managing body of an airport will provide assistance free of charge to disabled passengers

•  costs of the centralised system will be covered by airlines who will pay an amount proportional to the number of passengers they carry (all passengers, not just disabled passengers)

•  quality standards shall be set by the managing body of the airport in conjunction with airport users' committee

•  mechanisms for complaints, sanctions and enforcement.


Disabled people regularly experience discrimination when they travel by air. EDF is collecting testimonies from disabled people which we can use in our lobbying efforts. Some examples of discrimination we have received include:


Charging for assistance

►     Ryanair currently requires passengers with reduced mobility to call and confirm their booking. This call costs, for example in Belgium, 0,74 cents a minute – in February 2005 a passenger calling to confirm their booking was put on hold for 25 minutes before anyone answered. This is charging for assistance. (February 2005)


Denied boarding or booking

►     A group of deaf teenagers from the UK going on holiday to celebrate the end of exams were told to leave their plane because they did not have an escort. Pupils from Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf at Newbury, Berkshire, were due to go on holiday to the Canary Islands, via Madrid . The group had boarded the plane when Iberia Airlines staff told them they could not travel without escorts. (July 2004)

►     Ten people with intellectual disabilities and their six accompanying persons were denied boarding in Brussels on a flight to Tunis on Tunisair because they were deemed a "security risk". (January 2004)

►     A woman with no arms who is fully mobile and ambulant was forced by Air France to disembark from an aircraft before take-off on the pretext that she was unable to do up her own seat belt. She has flown before and this was never an issue. Air France claimed its personnel would not be authorised to do up her seatbelt for liability reasons (2003).


Undignified treatment

►     A blind person requested assistance on flight from Amsterdam to Paris ; upon arrival he was asked to sit in a wheelchair. He refused. Assistance provider told him that unless he sits in the wheelchair he cannot provide assistance to the luggage area. Passenger insisted and is told that Air France will send someone. After waiting a long period of time he was finally escorted to the luggage area where all luggage is gone from his flight and his luggage is lost. (December 2004)

►     A wheelchair user arranging a flight to Helsinki from the UK , was initially refused by Finnair unless he obtained full medical certification on the grounds that his cerebral palsy was "contagious" to other passengers and the crew! He refused to provide such information as a matter of principle and finally managed to convince them he was fit to travel on the basis that he had successfully travelled (always accompanied) without any difficulty using several OneWorld Partner airlines during the past year, as recorded by his "frequent flyer" account. (August 2004)


Some airlines want to opt-out (p rovide assistance to disabled passengers themselves) from the central system because they say they can provide better service to disabled passengers

•  This is false. If airlines are allowed to pull out of the central service this will threaten the financial viability of the centralised system (if a major airline, for example Lufthansa, opts out at a hub airport - this could represent about 60% of the flights at the airport, taking into account the code-shared flights with their 'alliance' partners).

•  Opting out will also threaten the 'seamlessness' (continuity and reliability) of the service (disabled passengers want to be able to show up and know exactly who is assisting them, and to receive assistance from point of arrival at the airport).

•  Opting out will pose many problems from an administrative point of view - who decides an airline can opt out? who decides if the airline is providing an adequate level of service? what happens if the airline slips below the level, can the opt-out be cancelled?

•  EDF believes that centralised service provision at airports is the most reliable way to ensure both the financial viability (which is compromised when airlines opt out) and seamlessness of assistance.


Airlines claim the centralised system creates a monopoly with no competition since there is only one service provider per airport

•  This claim by Airlines is not accurate – competition will be ensured by airports through tender procedures since the assistance in most cases will be provided by specialised companies. The quality and cost of service will be monitored closely and will be stable.


Airports are supportive of the Regulation and oppose the airlines' lobby to opt-out.

Airlines say the new Regulation means that will have to pay more

•  This is wrong. Many airlines currently provide assistance to disabled passengers and therefore have expenses related to assistance provision. The new centralised system will simply see those financial resources shifted to the airport who will now be responsible for providing the services. The costs should even go down because of economies of scale.

Airlines say costs are being pushed on to passengers

•  This again is incorrect by the same logic above. All passengers (except in cases such as Ryanair who charged disabled people separately) are already contributing small amounts to the provision of services to disabled passengers through their ticket price. The difference is that while now the airline may be providing the service, with the new system the responsibility will lie with the airport.


Airlines blame low cost carriers for this legislation

•  Low Cost carriers are not the only air carriers guilty of discriminating against disabled passengers. It is unfair and actually false to suggest that big-name airlines are providing good quality services across the board. EDF has collected numerous examples of discrimination which involve such airlines.