Air passengers with reduced mobility
The rights of passengers with a disability and/or mobility problems are legally protected by Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006, which gives equal opportunity to travel by air to people disadvantage by reduced mobility.
According to this regulation, a passenger with reduced mobility could be any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to any physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability or age and whose situation needs appropriate attention.
The regulations about people with reduced mobility stipulate that an airline cannot refuse to accept a reservation because of the passenger’s disability or reduced mobility.
An airline can only refuse a reservation or a request that a travelling person with reduced mobility must be accompanied by another person for justified safety reasons established by law.
Another exception is if the size of the aircraft makes it physically impossible for that person to embark. However, when these exceptions are applied by the airline, the latter is legally obliged to inform the person concerned in writing of its reason for doing so. This communication should be done within five working days.
People with reduced mobility are advised that if they are planning to travel by air, they should give the airline reasonable notice so that the airline can prepare to help them. In this regard, the regulations state that passengers with reduced mobility should notify their need for help to the airline, travel agent or tour operator at least 48 hours before the flight departure.
Pre-notification is not obligatory but highly recommended to make sure that both the airport and the air carrier can organise the most appropriate assistance according to the passengers’ needs and circumstances of their trip.
Passengers with reduced mobility are also entitled to free help in airports before departing on their trip, on arrival at their destination and during transit, when they are on the aircraft.
Such assistance may, for instance, include transport of wheelchairs and carriage of guide dogs for the blind. In fact, EU legislation stipulates that people with reduced mobility have the right to transport two pieces of mobility equipment free of charge.
They also have the right to travel on an equal footing as any other passenger and to information about safety rules applied by air carriers.
As to online bookings, there should be sections on the online form that allow the individual who is making the booking to give the airline sufficient notice of any help the passenger is likely to need.
Passengers who book their tickets over the phone or face to face must also be given as much information as possible to make sure they can make a booking that is suitable for their needs.
It is advisable for people with reduced mobility to get confirmation in writing about needing assistance – to have proof that they made a special request if the help they need isn’t available when they fly and therefore when they need to make a formal complaint.
Regarding seating on the plane, passengers with reduced mobility should be allowed to pre-book seats that meet their particular needs.
If the airline’s policy does not allow pre-booking of seats, it must at least allow people with reduced mobility to board the plane before other passengers.
Passengers with reduced mobility who are denied their legal rights can file a complaint and request redress.
The complaint should first be addressed to the defaulting airport or airline. If the problem remains unresolved, or no satisfactory form of redress is offered to the complainant, an official complaint should be made with the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority as the national enforcement body responsible for the implementation of the provision of the law in Malta.
Ms Vella is senior information officer, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.