Legal rights and regulations
EU Regulation 1107/2006 concerns the rights of 'persons with reduced mobility' when travelling by air. The guidelines cover before and after booking, and at the airport. Disabled people can receive free assistance when they fly to and from Europe, including for domestic flights.
Disabled people are protected from discrimination during reservation and boarding. Under regulations in force since 2008, airports, not airlines, are responsible for training staff in disability awareness and providing accessible information. Airport managing bodies are required to organise the services necessary to enable disabled passengers to board, disembark and transit between flights.
Airlines have to:
- provide certain assistance on board the aircraft; for example, help only as far as the toilet
- carry passengers' medical equipment and two items of mobility equipment free of charge
- carry assistance dogs free of charge (on permitted routes)
An airline can demand that a passenger travels with a companion if the passenger is not self-reliant, meaning unable to reach an exit unaided in an emergency.
Even when you book online and tick the box to tell the airline about your needs, never rely on this: always phone to check that they have all your correct details.
Airports are responsible for help in the airport, airlines for help on the plane. You book assistance with the airline, which passes this request on to the airport. Before you fly, consider the assistance you'll need and check the airline's safety rules.
Always tell your airline, travel agent or tour operator at least 48 hours in advance if you need assistance. Confirm as well when you check in.
Sometimes, manual wheelchair users go to the plane before transferring into a transit chair. Powered wheelchairs or mobility scooters are specially packed, so you transfer into a transit chair at the check-in desk. The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) has free information on the safe carriage of powered wheelchairs and scooters by air. Its Air Transport Advice page has the weight and dimensions of some electric mobility equipment, with notes on how to make them safe for air travel.
For blind or partially sighted people at airports
You can ask for someone to meet you from the point where you arrive at the airport - such as a car park or train station - and guide you through check-in, baggage check and customs controls. You can also have someone to tell you personally when your plane is boarding if you are in a 'silent airport', and someone to help you board the plane and stow your luggage.
Major airports are accessible but do check the facilities at your chosen airport in advance. Disabled passengers will usually be called for boarding first. Airlines must make all reasonable efforts to arrange suitable seating for you.
Wheelchair or mobility scooter users
When you book your flight, check with the airline that they can carry your wheelchair or mobility scooter.
Air travel for disabled children
MERU, a charity that designs and manufactures specialised equipment for disabled children, has designed the TravelChair for disabled children 3-11 years old (dependent on size) for use in an aircraft seat. The TravelChair is also available for hire.
It's important to have an assessment through their Try b4u Fly Assessment and Support Service.
You can try out four support seating systems in part of a real plane fuselage in Carshalton, Surrey or in Leeds. For more information about Try b4u Fly, contact QEF Mobility Services (in Surrey) or the William Merritt Disabled Living Centre (in Leeds).
Most public-address systems in airports have induction-loop facilities, which amplify sound for people with a 'T' switch on their hearing aids.
On the plane
Many airlines offer a personal safety demonstration to blind and partially sighted passengers on the plane. Sometimes, safety information videos are subtitled and announcements may be picked up via induction loops. Cabin crew can tell you about services, describe the layout of your food tray, open awkward packaging or help you find your way to the toilet. It's a good idea to explain your disability to cabin crew so that they can keep you fully informed.
Reporting back and complaining
First, contact the airline or the airport. If you are not satisfied with their response, contact the national enforcement body of the country where the incident took place. For flights departing from England, Scotland and Wales, and the assistance provided by airlines on flights from outside the EU to the UK with an EU-registered carrier, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) deals with complaints:
For complaints about flights departing from or arriving into Northern Ireland, contact the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland.
Travel tips and advice
- Before your flight, get a doctor's letter explaining your medication needs.
- Tell the airline if you'll be carrying syringes in any of your luggage.
- In Europe, assistance is generally good; many countries have similar laws in place but some do not.
- Be prepared for intrusive questions, having your wheelchair damaged and, in the worst cases, being refused permission to fly.
- If you need to be carried to board the aircraft, be prepared for some indignity in the transfer process.
- Consider what arrangements you may need to make if you can't get out of your seat and reach and use the toilet.
Last updated: August 2015