FREE TO FLY - Landmark EU Regulation adopted by Transport Ministers to stop daily discrimination against disabled air passengers

Brussels, 9 June 2006 - “Europe’s efforts to eliminate borders and to facilitate the free movement of its citizens is most of the times a far reality for disabled people. People with disabilities and their families are daily stopped from travelling due to arbitrary reasons or the specific policy of an air carrier. The Regulation adopted today will change the lives of people with disabilities and it is a long-waited step in our combat against discrimination,” said the President of the European Disability Forum, Yannis Vardakastanis.
Until this day, no European binding legislation existed in Europe to protect disabled people from discrimination when travelling by air. A person could be refused boarding or assistance on the ground of disability and some air companies had even established a quota system defining a maximum of disabled passengers per plane, regardless the type of disability.

“The air industry has been very reluctant to have binding legislation protecting the rights of disabled air passengers. With the new regulation
they will have to realize that, in addition to a basic question of fundamental rights, there is also a business opportunity for them”, said the leader of the disability movement, Vardakastanis.

The new Regulation adopted today by the European Ministers of Transport will prohibit denied boarding or booking on the ground of disability. Disabled passengers should receive seamless assistance at no additional charge, a responsibility that lies within the hand of the managing body of the airport. An important measure will also be the disability equality training for all staff dealing with the travelling public.

Despite the lobbying efforts of the European Disability Forum, the regulation still allows a possibility to deny boarding of disabled people
for “safety reasons”, which are not yet clearly defined. Although these safety reasons must be properly justified, if they are defined at Member
State level they could become a barrier for disabled passengers “Safety criteria must be harmonized at international or EU level; otherwise a disabled person could be allowed to travel from one country to another, but not to return home, as a different legislation would be applied. Having harmonized criteria also makes it easier for disabled people to be aware of their rights and makes the whole system more transparent for everybody”, stressed EDF President.

The right not to be denied boarding or booking will be applicable by the summer of 2007. The entire regulation will be totally effective a year later and directly applicable to European airports and airlines.

Source: European Disability Forum