European group raises voice over air travel ‘nightmare’ for people with disabilities

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People with disabilities in Europe still face disproportionate obstacles when flying, with denial of boarding common due to purported safety reasons often related to equipment such as wheelchairs or assistance dogs, a report said on Wednesday.

The Brussels-based European Disability Forum (EDF) report urged the European Union to put in place strong regulation to ensure air travel is accessible for all.

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The rules, which vary significantly from airline to airline, are often difficult to find or interpret, a situation that can result in passengers with disabilities being denied boarding, EDF said.

“Our report clearly shows the waking nightmares lived by persons with disabilities when they simply try to do what millions do daily,” EDF president Gunta Anca said.

“We are people – we travel for work, love, family, and fun – airlines need to start recognizing this.”

It gave the example of young British man, Brandon Aughton, who was denied boarding at East Midlands airport to the Spanish city of Malaga in November 2021 because ground handlers claimed his wheelchair was “too heavy.”

EDF said the European Commission should revise regulation to eradicate cases of denial of boarding. It should also introduce the right to a swift and fair compensation if a carrier still denies boarding.

Destruction and damage to passengers’ mobility equipment is widespread, EDF said, not only costing a lot of money to repair but also posing life-threatening risk.

Nadia Hadad, EDF executive committee member, said the back of her wheelchair was broken on a flight from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to Brussels.

“My independence was taken away and I had to pay to get it back,” Hadad said.

EDF said EU regulation must establish companies’ “full liability for damaged and lost mobility equipment” as currently airlines classify wheelchairs and other devices as luggage, meaning compensation often does not cover the cost.

The report will be presented to the EU Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean, on May 3.

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