The elephant in the room is an idiom describing an obvious problem no one wants to discuss; in the case of access to air travel, this is the PRM charge.
The PRM charge is a small tax, usually lower than 85 Pence or 1 Euro, all departing passengers pay. This money is used to pay for hardware and staff dedicated to assisting passengers with special needs.
In other words, wheelchairs you see at airports, and special assistance staff are all paid for by this levy.
Airports set the amount of the tax which is then collected by airlines when they sell tickets. This system has been in place in Europe since 2008, the year when Regulation EC1107/2006 came into force.
The Regulation assigned to airports the task of assisting passengers with physical, sensory, or hidden conditions from the moment they arrive at the airport until they take the seat on the plane.
So where’s the problem? On average, passenger traffic has been growing at a rate of 5 per cent year on year. However, requests for assistance have been growing at a much faster pace, approximately 12 percent year on year.
In simpler words, if the PRM charge is not increased, there is less money to assist more passengers. This sad reality implies services are scaled back, and quality is no longer a primary target.
Despite their best efforts, airports and their service providers often find themselves at a net loss because most airlines are adamant in fighting every attempt to increase the PRM charge.
Last December, the UK Civil Aviation Authority took the unprecedented decision to write to airlines about the PRM charge.
In the letter, the CAA said “we are aware that the disproportionate increase in PRM (Passengers with reduced mobility) numbers are potentially undermining some airports’ ability to be able to guarantee funding that will help enable them to sustain the quality of service at their airports in the future. Further, some airports have remarked to us that the quality of the service to PRMs is put at risk by airlines seeking to reduce costs of operating at the airport.”
The European Commission guidelines on Regulation EC1107/2006 state that “the Regulation states that at the end of the consultation process the airport managing body is the competent authority that may finally decide upon and apply the policy and the level of the charge. The Regulation does not allow airports users (airlines) as defined by the Regulation to take the decision on the level of the charge and impose this on airport managing bodies”.
In other words, an airport can impose the level of the PRM charge upon airlines to safeguard the provision of quality assistance.
Last February, Reduced Mobility Rights brought this document to the attention of all European National Enforcement Bodies at the meeting of NEBs in Brussels, promoting the idea of a coordinated action about PRM charge.
It is our opinion that this issue can no longer be ignored. Too much depends on the PRM charge not to have a Europe-wide debate and consensus on this levy.