Airlines failing disabled passengersGovernment report calls for better service

09 August 2006

Airlines must do more to meet the needs of disabled passengers, says a new report by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The review, which didn't name any airlines, assessed whether companies were meeting minimum standards set out in a voluntary code on access to air travel for disabled people. It found some airlines had failed to improve in the 18 months since the last review.

The DfT says the industry needs ‘further encouragement’ to follow the code - but ruled out further regulation.

Extra help

Researchers found airline websites rarely allow disabled customers to book assistance online. The code recommends that staff taking bookings should ask all customers if anyone in their party needs extra help at the airport or on a flight. But mystery shopping and a survey found no difference in the number of disabled passengers being asked if they needed help or pre-booking support.

Disabled passengers complained that staff lacked awareness especially concerning hidden disabilities such as deafness. Another complaint was the lack of pre-journey information available in large print, audio tape, Braille or computer disk.

The report also found that some airlines failed to follow the code’s recommendation to allow disabled passengers to pre-book seats. The airlines said this was because ‘all seats are the same’, that ‘no frills’ airlines did not have seating allocations, or due to how charter airlines sold seats to tour operators.

More training

The DfT has called for more training for travel and booking agency and airline staff and new procedures to increase pre-booking assistance.

Ryanair hit the headlines when it introduced a wheelchair levy on all of its passengers last year after losing a landmark High Court case. The court ruled that airline customers rather than British airports should bear the costs involved in carrying disabled passengers.

The move was sparked by a Ryanair passenger who took the airline to court after he was charged £18 to use a wheelchair at Stansted Airport in Essex.