A report of the International Air Transport Association highlights the legal challenges affecting access to air travel.
IATA’s damning report highlights that there are no global standards. “Regulations in the European Union are different from those in North America. Other countries have no specific regulations at all. In short, PRM regulation is a legal minefield.”
Lawmakers’ efforts to provide clarity on existing air travel equality laws fail to meet the air travel industry quest for a standard straightforward regulation. “The whole industry has concerns about the wording of the Interpretive Guidelines,” says Federico Bonaudi, Manager of Facilitation, Parliamentary Affairs and Regional Airports with Airports Council International (ACI)-Europe. “However, these Guidelines are just the European Commission’s interpretation. They are not binding. It will just be their point of view at the time of publication.”
Interpretative Guidelines to (EC) 1107/2006 were drafted to clarify key elements of the air travel Equality Regulation.
“My general view is that the document is weak and imprecise and does little to address areas of ambiguity,” says Juergen Waechtler, Director of Operations at Hamburg Airport. “In particular, it seems to encourage individual interpretation by member states, airports, and airlines, which undermines the fundamental principle of harmonization.”
However, Juergen Waechtler lessens his criticism when speaking about the Regulation. “Regulation 1107 might need some clarification, but most issues are covered quite well. We would like to see all passengers being able to receive the same level of service throughout the EU, and 1107 has, to a large extent, achieved that.”
“At the moment, it is a real patchwork,” says Gary Doernhoefer, General Counsel for IATA. The airlines trade association says that it "would be far more beneficial for all passengers with disabilities if a global set of standards could be implemented."
Supporting the implementation of a global standard is in the interest of all parties, primarily passengers with special needs, like the incident involving Mr Ben Rolls reminds.
Mr Rolls became temporarily impaired during a holiday in Kenya. He complained that he received poor assistance on his flight back to the United Kingdom and that, upon arriving at Heathrow airport; he was made to wait for his wheelchair assistance at the gate.
Mr Rolls contacted Reduced Mobility Rights after the Civil Aviation Authority told him he had no right to redress. The man’s flight was operated by Kenya Airways. European air travel Equality law does not apply to flights departing from a country outside the EU operated by a non-European airline.
Kenya does not have an air travel equality law in place. The Civil Aviation of the African country says they are working on one.
Heathrow airport said it did not receive a request for wheelchair assistance from the airline. However, once made aware of the situation, assistance services dispatched an agent to the gate within the time limits of the airport’s service level agreements.
Mr Rolls’ case highlights the need for a global standard. However, achieving this goal is easier said than done. Reduced Mobility Rights is taking action on the issue of promoting a set of global standards.
Air Travel Equality Laws must give European citizens access to their rights regardless which airline they choose. Its applicability shall be equal for European and foreign carriers alike, and must also concern the aircraft used to perform the flight. This scope of applicability is in use in the United States air travel Equality legislation since 2009.
Where a foreign air carrier believes that an applicable provision of the law of their Country of origin precludes compliance with a provision of these regulations, it may request EU Authorities a waiver of the provision of these regulations.
We submitted an amendment reflecting the above criterion to both the EU Parliament and the European Commission within the scope of the revision of (EC) 261/2004 and (EC) 2027/97.
We are communicating with the Civil Aviation of Kenya, and offered to assist them with the crafting of their Equality regulation.
Consumer friendly common rules delivering quality assistance to passengers with special needs are within reach. Time has come for Air Travel industry associations and lawmakers to clear the legal minefield and introduce a global standard for access to air travel.
About the author
Roberto Castiglioni is an industry acknowledged expert of all aspects of access to air travel. Providing Civil Aviation authorities, airports, and airlines strategic guidance, practical advice, and cutting edge solutions to support the evolving requirements of passengers with special needs is his mission statement. Roberto is a member of the UK Civil Aviation Authority Access To Air Travel Working Group and the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group.