Four years after coming into force, lawmakers are willing to consider changes to Regulation EU 1107/2006, which protects the rights of the disabled traveling by air.
One of the goals of Reduced Mobility Rights is to help lawmakers introduce changes necessary to PRMs to the Regulation. The primary objective is to improve the experience of people with reduced mobility and other disabilities traveling by air.
Reduced Mobility Rights Editor-in-Chief is in the process of submitting a series of suggestions to the European Commission for consideration.
These suggestions derive from personal experience accrued while traveling as carer of a person with reduced mobility, and by observing how PRMs receive support from airlines and airports across Europe.
1) Applicability of the Regulation
Mirroring DoT CFR 14 Part 382, EU 1107/2006 shall apply to all carriers flying from/to any member state of European Union. There shall be no distinction between EU and non EU carriers. There shall be no distinction between inbound or outbound flights. 1107/2006 shall apply to every direct flight departing from any airport within the EU, and to all direct flights arriving at an airport in the EU, irrespectively if the point of departure is inside or outside the EU. Carriers’ compliance with the regulation shall begin when the PRM boards the aircraft and ends when the person leaves the aircraft at destination.
Lawmakers must put an end to the paradox that a person with reduced mobility flying from Dubai to London is protected by the regulation only if he chooses to fly an EU carrier.
2) Introduction of the Complaint Resolution Official
The primary scope of the regulation is to define binding guidelines concerning the definition of nature, quality, and access to services available to persons with reduced mobility and other impairments traveling by air. The introduction of the Complaint Resolution Official (CRO) adds a new layer of protection for PRMs, to help prevent stressful experiences, and ensure problems can be resolved on the spot.
The role of the Complaint Resolution Officer is best defined and tested within the scope of CFR 14 Part 382. The definition has been partly modified (changes in brackets) to adapt the concept to the nature of 1107/2006. In the U.S., responsibility for assistance to PRMs and compliance falls exclusively on air carriers; however, in Europe this is shared between airport managing bodies and carriers, the former bearing the vast majority of duties.
The CRO shall be available via telephone, at no cost to the passenger, if the CRO is not available in person at the airport at the time of the complaint. If a telephone link to the CRO is used, TDD service shall be available so that persons with hearing impairments may readily communicate with the CRO.
Each CRO shall be thoroughly familiar with the requirements of [the regulation, the airport managing body] and the carrier’s procedures with respect to passengers with a disability.
Each CRO shall have the authority to make dispositive resolution of complaints on behalf of [the managing body or] the carrier.
Because of the peculiarity of the European framework, the ideal solution would be for CRO to be employees of NEBs, with the function, and powers, to assist and resolve issues on the spot, and register complaints when situations cannot be resolved.
I would like to stress the vital importance of the CRO. In this respect, we must remember that travellers with physical or any other type of impairments are already subject to a greater degree of psychological stress than able passengers. The primary scope of any legislation is to ensure that when vulnerable individuals experience problems, solutions are available. Most problems PRMs encounter can be resolved on the spot, provided a competent person with authority is within reach of the passenger.
If that is not the case, the vulnerable subject is going to suffer damage much greater than the accident itself.
3) Travel Companion Fare
At times, airlines request PRMs not to travel alone to meet safety regulations. In most cases, disabled passengers travel with family or friends; however, occasionally PRMs travel alone. In these occasions, if the airline requires the PRM to travel with a companion, the airline should give a deep discounted ticket. Deep discounted tickets, up to 75% off their face value, are already made available to crew members and their families and other individual. The fact that demand for a required travel companion is probably extremely limited must also be taken into consideration. Therefore, the financial impact of this facility on carriers is minimal, while the benefit for the disabled passenger immense.
4) Transmission of Information
There appears to be a gap in the transmission of data between carriers and airport managing bodies concerning passengers traveling with their own mobility devices. This gap may result in personal wheelchairs not being delivered at the aircraft door.
IATA has AirImp codification in place for these items:
In addition to the AIRIMP codes and definitions of wheelchair passengers (WCHR, WCHS and WCHC) the following AIRIMP wheelchair equipment codes and definitions shall be used:
WCBD (Dry cell battery) — to be transported by a passenger which may require advance notification/preparation/ (dis)assembly. Weight and dimensions may be specified. Wheelchair and the battery must be claimed and rechecked at each interline transfer point.
WCBW (Wet cell battery) — to be transported by a passenger which may require advance notification/preparation/ (dis)assembly. Weight and dimensions may be specified. Wheelchair and the battery must be claimed and rechecked at each interline transfer point.
WCMP (Manual power) —to be transported by a passenger. Weight and dimensions may be specified.
Full implementation of these codes easily removes the gap. This information also allows airport managing bodies to manage their resources more efficiently by being able to know in advance if a PRM coded WCHR, WCHS and WCHC is traveling with his/her personal mobility device or he will need airport provided wheelchair assistance.
I shall also draw attention to another problem with transmission of information, specifically identification of the age of the PRM requesting assistance. I have direct knowledge there is no such thing as a common standard of communication if the PRM is an adult or a child. This issue shall be addressed without delay. However, in order to create a new standard, IATA's assistance in this aspect is essential.
6) Information to the public
Information to the public must be accessible and comprehensive. Information specific to the rights of PRM, available services, contact details of service providers and NEB, and detailed complaint procedures must be made available in some areas within the terminal building, specifically at meeting points and check-in areas.
7) Compensation for lost or damaged wheelchairs, other mobility equipment and assistive devices
Quite often the value of specific wheelchairs and other mobility devices considerably exceeds the limits for compensation set forth in the Montreal Convention. In order to give passengers refunds meeting the actual value of the property damaged or lost the Montreal Convention limits must be waived, and compensation for a wheelchair or mobility device shall be the original purchase price of the item.
Additionally, because of the separation of roles between airport managing bodies and carriers there is a need for a clear cut determination of which entity is liable for said damages throughout the handling process of the mobility device.
8) Compensation for delayed or lost flights because of unavailability or refusal of assistance
Recently, in the U.K., there have been cases in which PRMs have been denied boarding because unavailability or refusal of assistance. In these cases, the rule of Article 7, EU 261/2004 shall apply, and on -the-spot compensation granted in accordance to the details of the above law.
9) Complaint procedure and handling process
With the creation of CROs, receipt and first vetting of complaints would fall within their responsibilities, thus simplifying the first step of the handling process.
If CROs are not an option, a common complaint process must be created. The process should be designed as follows:
Initial complaint: PRM files allegation of breach of regulation with the carrier or the airport managing body. All carriers and all airport managing bodies must set up a dedicated point of contact to receive complaints. Information of this point of contact must be made available on corporate websites, dedicated meeting points and in any other shape or form accessible to the public. Upon receipt, the carrier or the airport managing body must file the complaint with the NEB, who will keep the information for statistical purposes. Complaints must be handled within 10 working days from receipt.
Formal complaint: If the PRM is dissatisfied with the reply received, he shall formalize his complaint with the NEB. Contact information of the NEB must be accessible and understandable. The NEB has 20 working days to handle the complaint.
As we see, establishing CROs would help PRMs formalize their initial complaints while ensuring that only pre-vetted, serious cases escalate to the level of formal complaints.
10) Penalties and Compensation
The Commission must establish guidelines in respect of administrative penalties and compensation to victims of discrimination on the basis of disability.
Administrative penalties must be defined as a common standard, and must be appropriate. Consensus among the vast majority of NEBs appears to be ranging from a minimum of €5,000 to a maximum of €20,000 per violation. This band should become part of the Commission's guidelines to harmonize penalties across all member states. Whichever body found in violation of the regulation shall indemnify the victim of the breach for an amount of minimum €2,500 and maximum €10,000. This compensation must be added to the administrative penalty.
PRMs traveling by air are confronted with a variety of potentially traumatic situations. The simple modification of their daily routine triggers an understandable state of anxiety. This is why assistance provided by both airport managing bodies and air carriers must be as effective as possible.
However, problems may arise unexpectedly. The first line of defence to evaluate and solve problems is training of support staff and flight crews. The second line of defence for the PRM is the CRO, whose job is to solve problems as they happen.
Conceding that the second line of defence is a suggestion, the reasons supporting its creation outweigh the reasons to decline the option.
The need for common standards for penalties and compensation to victims of breaches ensures that, even when assistance goes terribly wrong, there are ways to discourage culprits to repeat their actions and provide monetary compensation, which alleviates the pain and suffering deriving from the breach.
Ultimately, the revision/enhancement of EU1107/2006 must produce the following:
Clear, easily executable guidelines concerning the services and rights available to PRMs;
Mandatory, and monitored, training for all ground assistance personnel and flight crews;
Creation of the Complaint Resolution Official to assist PRMs with problems from on-the-spot solutions to complaint pre-vetting;
Enhancement of the transmission of data process, integrating existing codes with ad hoc codes for specific needs such personal wheelchairs and assistance to disabled children;
Clear, mandatory guidelines to ensure airport managing bodies and air carries provide PRMs accessible information about their rights and available services;
Waiver of the Montreal Convention limits for compensation for lost or damaged wheelchairs or other assistive devices;
Compensation for delayed or lost flights because of unavailability or refusal of pre-booked assistance services;
Guidelines and common standards for the complaint procedure and handling process;
Guidelines and common standards for penalties and compensation.
In conclusion; every regulation needs to determine penalties for its enforcement. However, I think the real revolution with the revision of the Regulation is the foundation of the Complaint Resolution Official, a person who can help PRMs get quick solutions to the problem, so truly enhancing their travel experience, even when things do not go as planned.