EU forbids airlines to discriminate against disabled and elderly
People with reduced mobility should get the same access to air travel as other passengers, according to new EU rules set to come into effect on Thursday (26 July).
Under anti-discrimination legislation, airlines and tour operators will be forbidden to refuse passengers on the basis of reduced mobility, unless "duly justified" by safety reasons.
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Moreover, starting from next summer (26 July 2008), the disabled or elderly will be entitled to receive free-of-charge assistance in all European airports as well as on board planes taking off in the EU.
People with reduced mobility make up around ten percent of the bloc's 492 million population. According to the European Commission, this category of ageing population will grow further.
As the EU's key regulator, the Commission acknowledges that some airlines and airports already provide the services prescribed by the regulation, but it wants to ensure they are provided freely, everywhere. EU member states and the European Parliament agreed the new rules last year.
"The phasing-in of these rules, starting tomorrow, will put an end to discrimination and give disabled and elderly passengers the help they need," transport commissioner Jacques Barrot said.
The list of responsibilities on behalf of airports and airlines - for which they will have to bear costs - includes providing the relevant infrastructure for disabled passengers as well as carriage for wheelchairs and guide dogs.
For their part, EU member states will be obliged to set up control authorities to guard over the enforcement of the new measures. Passengers should be able to send complaints if they are rejected or ignored by airlines and airports to these new authorities.
It will be up to European capitals to decide what type of penalties the air transport companies should face for breaking these EU rules.
Prior to their adoption, some airlines - mainly low-cost carriers, complained that the legislation would entail extra costs, which would be reflected in the price of all passenger tickets. They also pointed out that there should be limits to the number of disabled passengers on board for practical reasons.