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Thursday, 3 September 2009

Airport and airline services for disabled travellers

When you book, always tell your airline, travel agent or tour operator if you need assistance when you travel. If you need assistance from airport or airline staff at any stage of your journey, you should always request this at least 48 hours before you fly.

Services for disabled passengers

These services should be available at all European airports if you have a sensory, physical or learning disability which affects your mobility when using transport:

  • facilities to summon assistance at designated arrival points, such as at terminal entrances, at transport interchanges and in car parks
  • assistance to reach check-in
  • help with registration at check-in
  • assistance with moving through the airport, including to toilets if required
  • help with getting on and off the plane
  • free carriage of medical equipment and up to two items of mobility equipment
  • a briefing for you and any escort or companion on emergency procedures and the layout of the cabin
  • help with stowing and retrieving baggage on the plane
  • assistance with moving to the toilet on the plane (some planes will have an on-board wheelchair)
  • someone to meet you off the plane and help you reach connecting flights or get to the next part of your journey

Airport plans

The Directgov Blue Badge map has airport plans for 20 UK airports. The plans show the layout of the airport and where various facilities are situated. This includes check-in desks, car parking, accessible toilets, information desks and more.

Travelling alone

For safety reasons, airlines are entitled to require that you travel with a companion if you are not ‘self-reliant’. To travel alone, you must be capable of:

  • unfastening your seat belt
  • leaving your seat and reaching an emergency exit
  • donning an oxygen mask and lifejacket
  • understanding the safety briefing and any instructions given by the crew in emergency situations

Airline cabin crew are not able to provide personal care, so if you need help with feeding, breathing, using medication or using the toilet you will also need to travel with a companion.

Seating on the plane

Airlines should allow you to choose the seat most suitable for your needs. However, people with reduced mobility are not allowed to sit in seats where they may obstruct access to emergency exits.

Additional seats

If you need to travel with a companion, the airline should make all reasonable efforts to seat them next to you. Some airlines may be able to offer a reduced fare for the second ticket. This will usually be a reduction against the full fare.

There may be a limit on the number of reduced fares they can offer on one flight, especially if it is a holiday package or charter flight. Ask your travel agent or the airline for more details.

The same restriction may apply in cases where the disabled traveller needs to occupy two seats for a reason related to their disability.

Where reduced fares are offered, airlines may require medical proof of your need to travel with a companion or book an extra seat. You should ask the airline or your travel agent what information you will need to give. This could be a letter from your doctor or a Blue Badge parking permit, for example.

Airlines' requirements if you have medical needs

Airline forms

If you have any medical needs, the airline may ask you to complete an Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD) form and/or a Medical Information Form (MEDIF). These are standard forms used by many airlines to help staff organise any assistance or equipment you may need during your journey and to decide whether you are fit to fly. With some airlines, the INCAD and MEDIF are two parts of the same form.

You can fill in the INCAD form yourself, but the MEDIF form must be completed by your doctor.

Most people do not have to fill in the MEDIF form, or apply for medical clearance to fly through any other procedure the airline may have. This includes people who have stable, long-term disabilities and medical conditions.

You should contact the airline and discuss your disability or medical condition with them – even if your doctor says you are fit to fly – as different airlines have different policies about carrying disabled passengers and people with medical conditions. The airline will be able to give you any forms they require you to complete. You can also get these forms from some travel agents.

Frequent Traveller Medical Card

The MEDIF and INCAD forms only last for one journey. If you are a frequent traveller, you can get a Frequent Traveller Medical Card (FREMEC). This is available from many airlines and gives the airline a permanent record of your specific needs. This means you won’t have to fill in a form and make special arrangements every time you fly. Before you travel with a different airline from the one that issued your FREMEC card, you should check that they will accept it.

Air travel code of practice

The Department for Transport has published a code of practice called 'Access to air travel for disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility'.

It gives guidance to the UK air travel industry on how it can meet its legal obligations and sets out the good practice needed to make sure disabled people and people with reduced mobility enjoy a consistent and seamless level of service when travelling by air. The code covers the whole journey, from accessing information at the booking stage through to arriving at the final destination.

Legal rights

Under European law, disabled people and other people with reduced mobility have legal rights to assistance when travelling by air. There is detailed information about this on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

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