A review of Romanian airlines conditions of travel for passengers with disabilities found the country’s flag carrier TAROM in breach of disability discrimination rules.
Discrimination against people with disabilities traveling by air remains a live issue in many countries around the world. Despite recent efforts, a substantial number of airlines stop short of telling disabled people to stay home.
In 2008, Europe introduced an anti-discrimination rule to protect the rights of passengers with disabilities traveling by air. Six years on, some European airlines are still reluctant to comply with the rule.
While public perception is that discrimination against the disabled is more common with budget and low cost carriers, reality shows discrimination remains a cross-party issue.By example, Romania’s flag carrier TAROM is in breach of European anti-discrimination disability rule, (EC) 1107/2006.
People with disabilities are well aware of the need to carefully plan and prepare their journey. To do so, they require information relevant to their trip prior to booking their flight.
EU Regulation requires airlines or their agents to make publicly available the safety requirements and relevant information on restrictions related to the size of the aircraft that it applies to the carriage of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility and their mobility equipment.
All relevant information has to be in accessible formats and made publicly available free of charge, to minimise situations where disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility may be denied boarding due to a lack of preparation.
Despite this crystal clear requirement, the website of TAROM does not provide any kind of information. The only mention found in TAROM’s conditions of carriage states that “carriage of unaccompanied children, incapacitated persons, pregnant women, persons with illness or other people requiring special assistance shall only be performed subject to Carrier's prior consent. Such passengers shall not be subsequently refused carriage on the basis of such disability and/or special requirements.”
Update 14/07/14 06.25 GMT
A special assistance section has appeared on the TAROM website. This is a positive development. However, the section contains elements of discrimination against people with disabilities.
TAROM imposes severe restrictions for passengers requiring the use of an aisle chair: they are not accepted on ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft, maximum two passengers in wheelchairs can travel on Boeing 737 aircraft and maximum six on Airbus 318 aircraft. It is unclear if these passengers are required to produce a medical certificate at check-in.
The language used by TAROM to refer to people with cognitive impairments is appalling. "Passengers who are not considered medical cases: Visually impaired passengers, Hearing impaired passengers, Dumb passengers."
By contrast, Romanian low cost and domestic airlines do better than State owned TAROM. Wizz Air, Blue Air, and Carpatair provide direct links to the special assistance page from the home page of their websites.
However, these airlines also breach anti-discrimination legislation. By example, Blue Air requires disabled passengers to have a valid medical document attesting to the existence of disability or reduced mobility.
EU Regulation does not impose any obligation on disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility to provide evidence of their disability or reduced mobility (whether medical or other) in order to justify the assistance requested. Therefore, carriers are not allowed to ask for such a proof as a precondition of selling a ticket or of permitting carriage.
Carpatair say they carry one wheelchair or mobility aid free of charge, regardless of free baggage allowance.EU rule states that passengers with disabilities are entitled to the carriage of two mobility aids free of charge.
Wizz Air limits the number of disabled passengers to 28 per flight, provided that a maximum of ten passengers who require a wheelchair from check-in to the cabin seat, can be carried on board the same aircraft. EU guidance sets the limit to 50% of all available seats on-board the aircraft.
The low cost airline asks passengers to pre-notify their need for assistance at the time of booking. This can be done online or by calling their call centre. Calling Wizz Air special assistance team costs 10p per minute from UK landlines. EU Regulation states that pre-notification is always free of charge, regardless if the booking is made online or by phone.
But who is in charge to make airlines comply with anti-discrimination rules? This is responsibility of the National Enforcement Body. In Romania this role is assigned to the National Authority for Consumer Protection.