Clear violation of EU regulation leads to discrimination of passengers with disabilities

Brussels, 15 April 2011 - Last week flight passenger Shuaib Chalklen was refused to board flight number LX353 London- Geneva on the grounds of his disability. The airlines motives for refusing this passenger stand in direct violation of EU law governing the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air.

On Monday, Vice President of the Commission responsible for transport Siim Kallas released a report on the functioning and effect of this regulation. This report additionally demonstrates the gravity of such discriminatory behaviour.Freedom of movement is the EDF’s top campaign in 2011, therefore, in response to this incident, the disability movement calls on the EU to step up its monitoring of EU law and for a clear definition of concepts to improve the journey for 80 million persons with disabilities.

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On Monday 4th April, UN Special Rapporteur on Disability and wheelchair user, Shuaib Chalklen was informed that if he planned to travel unaccompanied he would be denied boarding his flight LX 353 London-Geneva. The rationale behind this threat issued by the Swiss Air Medical Department was that the passenger could not independently use the sanitary facilities. The standard flight time for this route, from London to Geneva is 1h40 and Mr Chalklen is a frequent and thus experienced flyer yet, he was refused access on the grounds of his disability.

>the discrimination

The EU regulation concerning the rights of disabled people and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air clearly states that it is against the law to refuse carriage on the grounds of disability and that these rules be applied to all commercial passenger air services on departure, transit or arrival within the territory of a Member State, in this case the UK. The only exception to this rule can be made ‘in order to meet applicable safety requirements established by international, Community or national law.’ However Mr Chalklen was denied carriage due to the fact that he could not independently use the bathroom, clearly not a flight safety issue.

>the report from the European Commission

Transport Commissioner Kallas published a report on this regulation, mentioning that ‘some carriers tend to mix up requirements related to flight safety’. The Commission repeats that ‘if boarding is denied for safety reasons, this must be done solely for flight safety reasons,’ recognizing that there are still problems with the implementation of the regulation and hinting towards the misuse of the rules.

This incident is a prime example of the discriminatory attitudes persons with disabilities face on a daily basis when travelling. In response to this case, Vice President Kallas clearly stated that the series of measures contained in the commission report, released earlier this week, intended to clarify and strengthen their rights, with the purpose to ‘avoid situations where people with a disability or reduced mobility are unduly refused access.’ To further alleviate the situation and limit such barriers to free movement the disability movement suggests that airlines consider improved staff trainings that include a disability perspective to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

> Freedom of movement

The EDF has devoted it efforts in 2011 to particularly the issue of freedom of movement and increasing the accessibility to transport and similar services. The EDF regards that in this case, like in many others, the right to free movement was infringed due to a lack of understanding and awareness of disability issues. Yannis Vardakastanis, President of EDF adds that ‘persons with disabilities cannot yet freely move, work and live in other countries as simply as can other EU citizens. The EU has committed itself to guaranteeing freedom of movement to all citizens; it is now time to deliver this promise to the 80 million European with disabilities as well.’

Source: EDF