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Victory for Disabled Air Passengers

Cindy Loose

I never knew airlines could turn away disabled passengers, but discovered they could in the U.K. prior to last week, when a new law went into effect making it illegal to turn away people with either a temporary disability, like a broken leg, or a permanent disability, like the sort that makes someone dependent on a wheelchair.

A London Times story about the new law noted that RyanAir in fact had a policy stipulating that the airline would take no more than four disabled passengers per flight. If a fifth turned up, the policy was to turn him or her away. The policy wasn't clear on what airline personnel considered "disabled."

No cap was set for a fine if airlines disobey the rule.

Makes you wonder -- what are the rights of the disabled in other countries vis a vis handicaps and airlines? Anyone ever heard of that being a problem elsewhere?

By Cindy Loose |  July 30, 2007; 8:57 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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Coming back from South America, my mom tried to get a bulkhead seat since she had broken her rib during the trip and wanted a little more room to stretch out. Not only did we not get a bulkhead seat, but the airline threatened to not transport her claiming they couldn't transport anyone with a broken rib. My dad calmed everyone down and we got on the flight eventually, saying the rib was sprained, not broken.

Posted by: jbird | July 31, 2007 9:50 AM

I wrote the Seattle P-I columnist, about his column re: the rollout of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on July 10, if the new plane has better features for paraplegics and others who use wheelchairs. Currently, there are no airplanes made that allow a passenger who uses a wheelchair to use the bathroom during a flight. Have they designed a seating area that allows paraplegics to embark with their own wheelchair rather than being lifted on to an aisle chair in the jetway? Is there an onboard wheelchair that can carry disabled passengers to the bathroom? Are the seats for paraplegics well designated with lift up arm rests to allow easy transfer into the seat? No response received.

In the old days, I would fly the 727, which had a large section in the first row of the plane where I could just roll onto the plane and transfer out of my wheelchair independently. Then the new FAA rules came out, which prohibited airlines from seating disabled persons in the first row, as it was an exit row.

Then the newer models replaced the 727, and now I was forced to be boarded onto an "aisle chair" that was difficult to be lifted into by often untrained gate personnel. Then after a humiliating trip down the narrow plane aisle to the seat, I had to have the gate personnel, many times small women, lift me up over the arm rest on the aisle,many planes do not have removable armrests on the aisle; other planes have a couple of designated rows that have the removable armrest, or one the can be raised, on the aisle, but it is often not communicated to the reservations or check-in staff, who have seated me in a row that doesn't have this feature. Thus the gate personnel must lift me over the armrest, rather than me being able to simply transfer over onto the seat by myself.

On long flights, or on flights that are delayed on the tarmac, I must make sure my dehydration scheme holds up; I don't drink fluids for several hours prior to the flight nor during the flight, as there is no way to get me to the bathroom once the plane is in the air. How many other passengers would still fly if they had to do this? Many planes do not have onboard aisle chairs, and even if they did, one cannot get them into the tiny bathrooms.

There are over 450 thousand Americans surviving with spinal cord injuries, both paraplegics and quadriplegics. If one adds all the other disabilities that involve wheelchair use because of mobility impairment, like MS, muscular dystrophy, etc. there are several million Americans who need special seating on airliners. As the Iraq war continues, we will see many more veterans returning that are paralyzed or are amputees.

Posted by: J Poirier | July 31, 2007 6:18 PM

EU forbids airlines to discriminate against disabled and elderly


EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - People with reduced mobility should get the same access to air travel as other passengers, according to new EU rules set to come into effect on Thursday (26 July).

Under anti-discrimination legislation, airlines and tour operators will be forbidden to refuse passengers on the basis of reduced mobility, unless "duly justified" by safety reasons.

Moreover, starting from next summer (26 July 2008), the disabled or elderly will be entitled to receive free-of-charge assistance in all European airports as well as on board planes taking off in the EU.

People with reduced mobility make up around ten percent of the bloc's 492 million population. According to the European Commission, this category of ageing population will grow further.

As the EU's key regulator, the Commission acknowledges that some airlines and airports already provide the services prescribed by the regulation, but it wants to ensure they are provided freely, everywhere. EU member states and the European Parliament agreed the new rules last year.

"The phasing-in of these rules, starting tomorrow, will put an end to discrimination and give disabled and elderly passengers the help they need," transport commissioner Jacques Barrot said.

The list of responsibilities on behalf of airports and airlines - for which they will have to bear costs - includes providing the relevant infrastructure for disabled passengers as well as carriage for wheelchairs and guide dogs.

Posted by: Canada88 | August 3, 2007 4:00 PM

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