Brussels, 24 July 2008
The day after tomorrow – 26 July 2008 – sees the entry into force of new rules that will give the disabled and the elderly access to air transport comparable to that enjoyed by all other passengers flying to or from, or passing in transit though, airports in the European Union, with no discrimination and at no additional cost.
“The phasing-in of these rules will put an end to discrimination and give disabled and elderly passengers the help they need when travelling. These new rights constitute a major step forward in efforts to create a Europe for all citizens”, says Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for transport.
The Commission believes that the application of these measures will provide an effective response to the needs of a large and – with Europe’s demographic ageing – growing section of the population.
About a third of the EU's population suffer from reduced mobility. These are mainly disabled persons and the elderly, while others are unable to walk the long distances often required in modern airports. For some years, many airports and airlines have genuinely been trying to help. However, comprehensive assistance, free of charge, is not provided everywhere or by all airlines. This reality constitutes a major obstacle to access to air transport for persons with reduced mobility.
These problems are addressed by Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006, adopted by the Parliament and the Council on 5 July 2006, which will enable persons with reduced mobility to travel by plane without difficulty. The Regulation’s provisions deal with three areas; those covering the first area have been in force since 26 July 2007. The other provisions complementing these will enter into force the day after tomorrow, 26 July 2008.
Equal treatment of persons with reduced mobility
For flights from airports in the EU and for flights from third countries to an airport in a Member State, if the carrier is European the Regulation prohibits airlines and tour operators from refusing to take bookings from passengers, or to carry them, because of a disability or reduced mobility. The only restrictions allowed are on safety grounds, these having to be duly substantiated by national or international regulations, or if it is technically impossible to carry such passengers, e.g. because of limited space in the aircraft. This should put an end to the – generally unintended – discrimination seen up to now.
Free assistance in all EU airports
As from the day after tomorrow, European airports will have to provide a specific set of services for persons with reduced mobility from the moment they enter the airport to the boarding gate, at both the airport of departure and the airport of arrival. The assistance must be adapted to the mobility of the person benefiting from it. These passengers will be able to use airport infrastructure in the same way as any other passenger. When boarding starts, they will enjoy priority boarding, under the best of conditions and with the necessary equipment.
Assistance on board
On flights from EU airports and from airports in a third country to an EU airport, if the air carrier is European airlines will be obliged to provide certain services, such as carrying wheelchairs and guide dogs, free of charge. These rules will also enter into force the day after tomorrow.
Any person affected by a disability or reduced mobility and wishing to receive assistance is requested to indicate his or her particular requirements to their travel agency or air carrier as soon as possible. It is not compulsory to do this, but it must be done at least 48 hours before departure if the person wishes to be given assistance adapted to their needs.
The EU Member States, for their part, have to set up enforcement bodies responsible for ensuring that the Regulation is applied on their territory. Any person affected by a disability or by reduced mobility who considers that these rights have not been respected can bring the matter to the attention of the management of the airport or the airline in question, as appropriate. If they are not satisfied with the response, a complaint can be made to the national enforcement body designated by the Member State concerned.
Most of the Member States have already sent the Commission a list of the names and address of their enforcement body, while others have indicated their intention to name their body shortly. The Commission will carefully check to make sure that every Member State fulfils its obligations in this area and that it introduces a system of penalties, as it is required to do.