People always associate summertime with travel. For many travelers with disabilities, and for my husband Jim Fisher and I as parents of an autistic teenager, travel tends to be associated with headaches or rather with something more like migraines. With TSA, airlines packing in the econo-passengers and civility and patience in short supply, the skies, the roads, etc., all seem to be decidedly less friendly. Individuals who need wheelchairs and other accommodations have really been getting short shrift while flying in Europe, as Reuters notes, and the situation doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime, or anywhere (including in the US), soon.
Last week, European Union officials met with representatives of the European Disability Forum, which represents about 80 million Europeans with disabilities, to discuss the challenges of flying. Unfortunately, the meeting yielded few results about enforcing existing laws about passengers rights with airlines, over such issues as making sure that airline staff handle equipment such as wheelchairs properly. A 2006 EU law requires airports and airlines to “board passengers with reduced mobility” but, as the following examples illustrate, compliance has been at best “shaky”:
The meeting was called after complaints about several European airlines reached the European Commission, including one from the U.N.’s disability representative, who was prevented from boarding a European flight on Swiss International Airlines in April.
Ryanair (RYA.I) lost a lawsuit in Britain earlier this year in a case over a wheelchair-bound woman who was stuck on the runway when a requested hydraulic ambulance lift to raise her to the plane’s door was not available.
The woman’s husband carried her onto the plane on his shoulders and the court found that employees gave no help. Air Europa, EasyJet (EZJ.L) and Air Berlin (AB1.DE) have also been the subjects of recent complaints to the Commission.
Passengers do have rights. In the US, passengers with disabilities can learn about their rights via the Association for Airline Passenger Rights:
The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments
TSA has a program for screening of persons with disabilities and their associated equipment, mobility aids, and devices. A section on children with disabilities is primarily about children with physical disabilities, but does note that you should “inform the Security Officer if you think the child may become upset during the screening process as a result of their disability” and “offer suggestions on how to best accomplish the screening to minimize any confusion or outburst for the child.” How agents might respond, or if they will respond at all, to a parent’s suggestions is not mentioned.
As I recently wrote in regard to some passengers’ calls for child-free flights, air travel is currently out of the question for our son Charlie. His disability is “invisible” in the sense that he does not have physical disabilities but he does need accommodations.
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