Our investigation, Up in the Air, into the accessibility of the air industry was sparked by repeated reports of disabled passengers receiving a second-rate service from airlines. Trailblazers told of multiple headaches that ranged from complicated booking processes to their wheelchairs being damaged by baggage handlers, and people being injured when being lifted into airline seats.

In 2008, legislation was introduced by the European Union to protect the rights of disabled passengers flying in and out of Europe. However, it has been four years since the regulation was implemented, and our investigation reveals that disabled passengers still regularly encounter barriers to a smooth and pleasant travelling experience.

Although some disabled passengers have had good experiences, most disabled passengers believe there is much that the airline industry needs to do before it catches up with other mainstream modes of transport.

Our report revealed:

  • Half of respondents to our survey had problems checking in a wheelchair or other mobility or health-related equipment.
  • Six out of ten disabled passengers say their wheelchairs have been damaged when travelling with an airline.
  • Eighty five percent of respondents said they would not use an airline that required them to break their wheelchair up into smaller parts.
  • Six out of ten disabled passengers said they felt unsafe when they transfer from a wheelchair to an airline seat.
  • Almost half of disabled passengers feel that airline staff who lift and carry them do not provide a good service.
  • Nine out of ten wheelchair users are unable to use airline toilets and therefore have to avoid drinking before or during flights.

Once when I tried to check in I was told that I was unable to travel as I had not made the airline aware that I was disabled – even though I had rung up and told them! They said that they couldn’t  allow me to travel as they did not have the equipment – even though another passenger said that she had booked the same assistance so the equipment (a lift on board!) was actually available. They were extremely rigid and rude in their attitude to me and their mistake cost me hundreds of pounds.

Rebecca Oughton

Trailblazers are calling for:

  • all airlines to ensure they can carry all wheelchairs/mobility scooters and other medical equipment free of charge and with no restriction on weight.
  • all airlines and airports to ensure that all medical equipment including wheelchairs are properly secured to ensure no damage.
  • all airports to have an Eagle Lift system and make sure all assistance staff are fully trained on manual handling procedures (including moving individuals with muscle-wasting conditions.

You can read our report on air travel here. Trailblazers continues to campaign on improving access to air travel. If you are affected by these issues and would like to share your experiences or be a media ambassador, contact us here.

Pictured above: Trailblazer Emma Muldoon trying out the Eagle 2 Lifter for use on airlines.

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