Did you know that you have certain rights as a passenger when you are travelling by plane? If your flight is significantly delayed or cancelled, you have right to a financial compensation. The airline also has to provide you with food, accommodation, and possibility to call or use the internet within certain limits. You also have some specific rights if you are a visually impaired person, or a person with a disability more general: the airport has to provide assistance so you can board your plane. The airline cannot refuse your booking because of your disability. And in each Member State of the EU, there is an official body designated to help you enforce your rights if something goes wrong.
All of this is part of the EU’s Air Passengers’ Rights laws. There are in fact two separate laws: Regulation 261/2004 on general Air Passenger’ Rights such as cancellations and delays, and Regulation 1107/2006 which is specific to Air Passengers’ Rights for persons with disabilities and regulated for example the provision of assistance at airports. There is actually a whole set of Regulations covering passengers’ rights in all transport modes, except for urban transport, which has made travelling easier for many of us in the EU.
Passengers’ Rights in the EU can be therefore seen as a success story because they have brought concrete benefits to citizens who often perceive the EU institutions as abstract and bureaucratic. Those laws have empowered passengers to claim their rights and enforce them, especially persons with disabilities. Knowing that you can expect assistance at the airport helps to plan your journey and travel more independently and knowing that you have the rights to reimbursement or a compensation if your flight has been cancelled gives you some certainty and avoids stress in cases of disruption.
However, of course these laws are also not perfect. In fact, there are some major shortcomings that concern visually impaired persons:
- Even though the laws give you the right to travel and you cannot be discriminated against because of your disability (Art. 7, Regulation 1107/2006), it still allows for airline staff to deny you boarding for “safety reasons”, or oblige you to travel with an accompanying person. This happens regularly even though the passenger has already bought the ticket and in many cases even indicated that they have disabilities and need assistance. In practice, this loophole is unfortunately frequently abused and visually impaired persons end up stranded at the airport or they have to explain themselves and their disability in unpleasant arguments with airline staff in order to board the plane.
- Mobility equipment and assistive devices are allowed to be taken free of charge (Regulation 1107/2006) but airlines have only limited liability if they damage, destroy, or lose this equipment (Regulation 261/2004). According to the international convention that governs liability of airlines, the Montreal Convention, there is in fact no difference between regular luggage and say a 15 000 € electric wheelchair. Compensation will be in both cases maximum 1300 €.
- Enforcement and implementation of both laws is not strong enough. The national bodies that are in charge of controlling the airports and airlines are often understaffed and underessourced and their competences vary between different Member States. In some countries, the national body can only give an opinion but it is not legally binding. This means of course that the passenger is less like to get their right, or they have to go to court which is costly, time-consuming, and stressful.
- You have a right to get assistance but the quality of this assistance can vary from airport to airport. Many airports outsource this service and in some companies, staff changes frequently. They are obliged to receive practical training (e.g. on how to properly guide a visually impaired person) and disability awareness training. But in practice, this is not always the case. It happens for example that visually impaired persons are asked to sit in a wheelchair. Also, they can be understaffed so that they sometimes put different persons with disabilities together in a group, which has led to some passengers missing their planes for example.
To tackle all the problems mentioned above, organisations like EBU together with the European Disability Forum and other allies such as the European Passengers’ Federation, AGE Platform Europe (the organisation representing older persons), and BEUC (the organisation representing consumers) have teamed up to advocate for improvements in the existing legislation. Seeing as though both laws are now over 10 years old, some issues need to be updated and some loopholes urgently closed.
The general Air Passengers’ Rights Regulation (261/2004) which governs the aspect of liability for mobility equipment, is currently being discussed in the Council. A proposal from the European Commission has been on the table since 2013 and it would significantly improve the situation for persons with disabilities, i.e. it would raise the liability limit to the actual value of the damaged, lost, or destroyed equipment. The Member States, who are the ones discussing in the Council, are sceptical to include this change so we need to keep putting pressure on the national governments to see the need for this important amendment.
The Air Passengers’ Rights Regulations for persons with disabilities (1107/2006) will be evaluated in 2020. The results of this evaluation will determine if a revision could be planned by the Commission or not. We need to make sure that the results of the evaluation are realistic and reflect the reality of visually impaired passengers so that the loopholes can be fixed. If you have feedback feel free to send it to EBU who will work together with EDF on this evaluation so that we will hopefully have a stronger legal framework to make travelling easier for everyone.
Did you know that…
- The Regulations allow airlines to levy an additional charge on every sold ticket to pay for assistance for persons with disabilities. This charge can vary but could be up to 0.5 € per ticket. Not having enough money is therefore not an excuse for bad quality assistance!
- The assistance charge can also be used to pay for training of staff and to buy assistive equipment.
- Every airport has to have an Airport Management Committee in which persons with disabilities should also be represented. In this Committee, it is for example discussed how the additional assistance charge should be spent.
- Airlines and airports do not have to share their data on how many persons with disabilities have been denied boarding with the authorities or make them public. Therefore, it is especially important to report those cases to feed the official statistics!
- Your EU rights also apply to flights that leave an EU airport to go to a country outside the EU (e.g. on a flight from Brussels to Dubai) and to flights arriving at an EU airport (e.g. Istanbul to Paris).
By Marie Denninghaus, EDF Policy Coordinator
To report cases of discrimination or for additional questions feel free to contact Marie Denninghaus (email@example.com)