WHAT ARE AIRLINES AND AIRPORT OPERATORS OBLIGED TO DO TO MAKE TRAVEL AS BARRIER-FREE AS POSSIBLE?
Where are the relevant regualtions set out?
The rights of airlines and infrastructure operators and the rights of persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are defined in the following regulations:
- Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air
- Commission Staff Working Document SWD (2012) 171 final of 11 June 2012 Interpretative Guidelines on the application of Regulation (EC) N° 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air – Auslegungsleitlinien zur Anwendung der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 1107/2006.
- Moreover, companies refer to Part 1 Section 5 of European Civil Aviation Conference Document 30 when organising services and assistance at the airport and on board the aircraft.
E C A C Policy Statement in the field of Civil Aviation Facilitation.
When do the specified regulations apply?
They apply when
- the aircraft departs from an EU member state or lands in an EU member state
- the aircraft transits an EU member state
- Articles 3, 4 and 10 also apply when an aircraft operated by an EU airline departs from a third country and lands in an EU member state.
In which situations can the apf help travellers?
The apf is responsible when
- the aircraft departs from Austria
- the aircraft departs from an EU member state and lands in Austria
- the flight is operated by an Austrian airline and starts / lands in the EU
- the aircraft departs from a third country and lands in an EU member state, and the flight is operated by an Austrian airline
- the aircraft departs from a third country and lands in an EU member state, and the flight is operated by an airline whose headquarters are located in an EU member state
- the airport to which the complaint about assistance relates is located in Austria.
The most important information in brief
First of all, it is important that passengers with reduced mobility inform the airline of their need for assistance, help and support in as much detail as possible and in plenty of time (no later than 48 hours before departure). In general, airlines are under an obligation to transport persons with reduced mobility. The airline may only deny boarding in exceptional cases where boarding would violate applicable safety regulations or where boarding is impossible on technical grounds (e.g. because of the aircraft design or equipment).
- The apf therefore advises passengers to make enquiries with the operating airline in advance, since the services available may also depend on the route or type of aircraft used.
- If possible, you should provide information about the assistance you will need at the time you make the booking. This applies regardless of whether you book through a travel agent or with the airline directly.
- The apf advises passengers to have their requests for assistance placed on record and/or confirmed in writing.
- The apf also advises passengers to find out in advance whether they should arrive at the airport early on their departure date.
Persons with disabilities or reduced mobility are specifically entitled to free assistance at the airport (on the way to the gate and the aircraft, when boarding and disembarking etc.). Moreover, they are entitled to support when checking in, collecting and transporting luggage, undergoing security screening and passing through customs.
Airlines are specifically obligated to transport vital medical equipment and mobility aids including electric wheelchairs (provided 48 hours’ notice is given, there is sufficient space on board and the relevant safety regulations are complied with). Airlines – subject to national regulations – are also obligated to carry recognised service dogs. As far as possible, airlines must orient on the needs of persons with disabilities or reduced mobility when allocating seats.
If a person with a disability or reduced mobility is accompanied by a support person, the airline must make every effort to allocate the support person a seat next to the person with reduced mobility. The support person must also be permitted to provide the necessary assistance at the airport and when boarding and disembarking whenever this is required.
In order to give airlines and airport operators sufficient time to adjust to these requirements, passengers must inform them of their needs 48 hours beforehand and arrive well in advance of the scheduled departure time. However, even if such advance warning is not provided, the airport operator is obligated to support passengers with reduced mobility to the best of their ability.
If wheelchairs or other mobility aids are damaged or mislaid by airport or airline employees, the company responsible will be held liable for the replacement value or repair costs in accordance with the respective international, European Union and national regulations.
If passenger rights are not observed
- As in the Air Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004 (cancellation, delay etc.), the following applies: if airlines or airport operators do not fulfil their obligations, and if the passenger and company are unable to reach a mutual agreement directly, the Agency for Passenger Rights (apf for short) will help – and will never charge fees or commission.
This means that if the matter cannot be resolved directly within 6 weeks of a written complaint being submitted to the company responsible, the case can be submitted to the apf by means of an online arbitration request. The guideline is intended to ensure that all the necessary documents are submitted so that the complaint can be processed quickly.
- In cases of possible discrimination as defined in the Federal Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, the apf recommends contacting the service centre of the Ministry for Social Affairs (at). They too have set up an arbitration board which should be appealed to as a preliminary step to initiating legal proceedings.