The Regulation on the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air

Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air (hereafter “the Regulation”) was adopted in July 2006 and it applies since 26 July 2008 (except for two articles that applied already from the year before).

Aim and scope

The Regulation’s purpose is to protect disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility travelling by air against discrimination and to ensure that they receive the assistance they need.

It protects any person with a physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary), an intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or age, and whose situation needs appropriate attention and the adaptation to his or her particular needs of the service made available to all passengers.

It obliges airports situated in the EU and commercial air carriers for flights on departure from, transit through or arrival at an airport situated in the EU.

Basic principles

Passengers with disabilities (PWDs) should not be discriminated against when booking a ticket or boarding an airplane, and they have the right to receive assistance they require at no additional charge.

To ensure maximum seamlessness, assistance to PWDs shall be provided centrally under the responsibility of airports, from the point of arrival at the airport with the transport mean you have chosen to the point of departure of the airport of arrival, and during transit. To receive assistance you should pre-notify your needs at least 48 hours on beforehand at any of the points of sale of tickets. Evidence of your pre-notification requests shall be included in your reservation. Pre-notification is always free of charge, regardless of the place where the booking or the pre-notification is made.

You have the right to bring the mobility equipment and assistive devices you need, to get essential information in accessible formats, and to travel with your guide dog on board. Should your mobility equipment or assistive devices be lost or damaged during the trip, you have the right to compensation according to national, EU and international law.

Air carriers retain the possibility to deny boarding to persons with disabilities or to refuse the requested assistance in order to meet applicable safety requirements established by law, but reasonable efforts must always be made to offer that person an acceptable alternative. The carrier may also request the person be accompanied by another person capable of providing assistance to meet these safety requirements. In either of these situations, the person affected must be immediately informed of the reasons. These safety reasons shall be publicly available in accessible formats. Any refusal to provide assistance or carriage should be clearly based on a reason contained within the Regulation. PWDs who were denied boarding for these reasons have the rights to reimbursement or re-routing according to Regulation (EC) No 261/2004.

All staff dealing directly with the traveling public must receive relevant training, including disability awareness and disability equality training.

Of particular relevance to visually impaired persons

The following three points deserve special attention:

The Regulation provides that, taking account of local conditions, airports shall designate points of arrival at which disabled persons can, with ease, announce their arrival at the airport and request assistance. These points should be located at least at the main entrances to terminal buildings, in areas with check-in counters, in train, light rail, metro and bus stations, at taxi ranks and other drop-off points, and in airport car parks. This represents a major progress compared to the situation that existed in most EU airports before, where assistance was provided from the point of check-in.

As clarified by the European Commission in its guidelines (see below), an air carrier may require PWDs to be accompanied only if they are not self-reliant, i.e. require intense or specialised assistance. Normally this would not concern blind or partially sighted persons, but it is an aspect which calls for vigilance.

"Recognised assistance dogs" shall be accommodated on-board, in the cabin, at no additional cost subject to pre-notification to the carrier, its agent or tour operator as soon as possible prior to travel. The article by EGDF in this newsletter looks in depth at this issue.

Clarification brought through Guidelines

In 2012, the European Commission published guidelines on the interpretation of the regulation to address some remaining practical problems and uncertainties. The guidelines address inter alia the following questions:

Is it admissible to request from PWDs proof of medical condition as a precondition of selling a ticket or of permitting carriage? No. The Regulation does not impose on them any obligation to provide evidence of their disability or reduced mobility (whether medical or other) in order to justify the assistance requested. Carriers are therefore not allowed to ask for such a proof. However, in situations where the medical condition of a passenger is such that there is reasonable doubt that the passenger can complete the flight safely without requiring assistance during the flight, an air carrier may assess whether the passenger is fit-to-fly and request information to support that assessment. Only where an assistance provider identifies an obvious situation of abuse could a more specific in-depth enquiry be undertaken.

Which actions are required from assistance providers where PWDs do not notify their specific needs prior to travel? Assistance service providers can give priority to pre-notified PWDs when providing assistance, but they must in any case make all reasonable efforts to assist those passengers and take a proactive role in seeking to meet their needs.

Does providing assistance to PWDs include the transportation of baggage from the baggage hall to a designated point? Yes, possibly. The term "appropriate assistance" means that the service provider needs to adapt the assistance to the individual requirements of the PWDs. Such assistance should be proportionate whilst allowing disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility to move at the airport to take their flight. On this basis, assistance providers are allowed to adapt the level of their service to each situation following a case by case analysis. This clarification from the Commission raises questions whether it is admissible that blind persons are made to sit on a wheelchair to guide them around an airport.

Enforcement and complaints

As required by the Regulation, EU Member State laid down rules on penalties relating to infringements of the regulation, and designated national enforcement bodies (NEBs). These bodies receive the complaints of PWDs that have not obtained satisfaction from the managing body of the airport or the airline concerned.

The 2012 Guidelines bring the following clarification regarding complaints:

A complaint can be sent to the NEB in charge of enforcement or to any other NEB who has the duty to send it to the NEB in charge of the enforcement.

For complaints linked to the assistance required to be provided by an airport management body, the competent NEB is the one in the Member State where this airport is situated.

For complaints linked to the assistance to be provided by an air carrier:

  • if the place of departure is situated in a Member State, the competent NEB is the one in that Member State;
  • if the place of departure is situated outside the Member States, and the flight is operated by an EU licensed carrier, the competent NEB is the one in the first Member State of arrival.

In addition to the above, and in consideration of the principle of territoriality, when an incident occurs during a flight, the NEB from the Member State which issued the air carrier's operating licence may be asked to provide assistance in solving the case

In order to ensure an effective application of the Regulation, NEBs need to cooperate and mutually assist each other so that the competent NEB in charge of investigating a complaint about a specific carrier, can obtain the necessary information to handle the complaint.

Legal state of play

The European Commission is currently undertaking a revision of the interpretative guidelines of 2012. It is in that context that EBU submitted its report on 'Most frequent problems experienced by blind and partially sighted persons when travelling by air’ (more on this in the article by DBSV in this newsletter).

The European Commission is also making an evaluation of the 2006 Regulation itself. The purpose of the evaluation is to assess whether the Regulation is delivering well, whether there is a need to modify it.

By Antoine Fobe, EBU Head of Campaigning