Air models

In the US, you can count on disability regulations to be clear and enforced. Of course, at times you may encounter situations where these regulations aren’t being met, but offenders will be accountable.

If you travel, you’ll likely encounter places with less comprehensive, less clear and less enforced rules. So when it comes to air travel, the airline you pick can make all the difference in your experience.

Two of Europe’s most popular, economical carriers are EasyJet and Ryanair. When I flew with these two, I’m pretty sure everyone felt a little inconvenienced. For one, you can only bring a carry-on, all checked bags cost a fee. Also, you always enter and exit the plane from the tarmac, using those narrow steep stairs. For someone who uses a wheelchair, these restrictions can be…well, too restricting to travel at all! And that is exactly the case!

In 2010, EasyJet was singled out for not allowing power chairs over 60 kg (without battery) to be transported. This is not the “official” rule, but it’s the rule that was in practice. But even so, they handle these chairs so poorly, they are often damaged (sometimes severely or to the point they must be replaced). And on top of that, passengers needing to use oxygen are charged a  £100 “tax on breathing”. Here’s just a small snippet of the article on the Trailblazer group’s research:

More than half of the 100 young disabled people surveyed for the report said that travelling by plane was so inaccessible that they were unlikely to choose it as an option, while many of those who had chosen to fly revealed experiences of discrimination.

Several travellers said they had landed in a foreign country to find their wheelchair had been broken by careless handling, while others said toilets on planes were so inaccessible that they were unable to use them, leaving one passenger unable to go for 11 hours.

This was almost 3 years ago, but it’s hard to tell if they’ve made any improvements. Afterall, it seems their “official” rules mean nothing.

You can read about an incident that occurred several years before this article with Ryanair. You should read the story in full for all the disturbing–and honestly unbelievable–details. Here’s just a few of those details:

The author, after enduring several months of chemotherapy for cancer in their spine, was traveling with their parents: 76 year old father with cerebral palsy and “minuscule and frail” mother. The mother was the only one able to carry any of their many bags of medical equipment.

  • The father was denied access to an accessible bathroom and had to wait an hour to for the hoist to be summoned so he could disembark the plane.
  • They were harassed by an immigration official for moving to slowly.
  • Their prepaid transportation didn’t show up at the airport, and  on the return trip to the airport, the transportation wasn’t accessible.
  • The airport wheelchair pusher abandoned them before customs because “this is as far as I am expected to take you”

Now this experience was quite a few years ago (under 10) but I think it illustrates the history of this sort of sentiment. You don’t need a specific law to say, push all passengers to their destination or be patient with mobility-challenged passengers. You need respect and decency towards the disabled to do those things. So even though this account is in the past, it isn’t nearly far enough in the past!

These errors continue to happen. Even in the US these things happen (remember how the TSA agent ruined a 3 year old girl in a wheelchair’s entire trip?). But I think we hold each other to a higher standard than other parts of the world.

I don’t mean to bash Europe. Rather, I intend to single out airlines who should step up to the level of their peers. In fact, I think Europe has some fantastic carriers! British Airways has this great policy: “You can bring an unlimited number of wheelchairs or mobility aids in addition to your free baggage allowance.” They also have a wonderful site to answer all sorts of questions for disabled travelers in a clear and easy way.

BA isn’t the only good carrier out there either. I just think they are one of the examples other airlines should aspire to–not only airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair, but even airlines in the States!

The question is, how do we get airlines hold themselves to a higher standard?

Note: Since the above Ryanair story, this new legislation has been passed (in 2008)


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