A significant right everyone has is to choose an airline. For wheelchair users, judging the level of support they will be offered is vital, along with how well an airline keeps to industry requirements.
Government legislation exists across much of the developed world, such as the USA’s Air Carrier Access Act and EU laws on airline use for passengers with reduced mobility. EU requirements have largely been retained by the UK following Brexit.
A new UK charter for airlines in late 2018 reinforced the position. This promotes removal of the £2,000 limit on payouts for damaged wheelchairs, along with better training for airline staff and baggage handlers.
Limitations In Support
EU legislation covers EU registered airlines worldwide and any carrier flying from a European airport. This grants “special assistance” but mainly applies to movement to, or from the plane and providing help for:
- Terminal entrances, transport interchanges and car parks.
- Passing through departure areas and boarding an aircraft.
- Transfer between flights and travel at a destination airport.
Similar legislation applies in most locations, including UK airports and airlines, who are also required to allow you to take 2 items of mobility equipment free of baggage charges. Moving around on board an aircraft is less well supported.
Your airline should give thought to seat allocation and provide help to move around the plane but this is not specified.
There is ongoing discussion as to whether passengers can travel in their own wheelchairs from the start to the end of their journey, including taking their wheelchair on board the aircraft. Aircraft seats are designed to meet rigorous safety standards for good reason and therefore testing all different types of wheelchair and approving them for travel on an aircraft would be problematic.
During take off and landing the aircraft is subjected to substantial G forces. Any equipment fixed in an aircraft has to be able to withstand this and has gone through rigourous testing and approval in order to comply to the stringent build standards. Re-engineering conventional wheelchairs to comply with this standards would not only be costly but impractical too.
Another consideration has been to remove existing cabin seats and provide areas for personal wheelchairs to be fixed with a tethering system. Currently this is not seen as viable because of regulations but also because of prohibitive costs. Consequently, the best solution is for airlines to provide an on-board wheelchair, such as Airchair.
Providing an on-board wheelchair means that passengers with reduced mobility can travel safely and be transported around the cabin easily and with dignity.