What is the situation for disabled flyers?

Disabled flyers have not had an easy experience on board. Only recently the maltreatment of a disabled flyers using AlbaStar airlines was brought to light in October last year when the passenger was forced to drag herself to the toilet and was told by airline staff that she should have worn a nappy. This maltreatment highlights the discrimination that can be faced by disabled flyers from the aviation industry. In this case, the airline issued an apology saying that they took this case very seriously and it offered their sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused and said that they have aisle chairs onboard planes to help transfer people to and from the wheelchair should they need to use the toilet. However, it does maintain that it followed current guidance when dealing with disabled passengers.

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AlbaStar airlines did apologize ©AlbaStar

Wrong Attitudes

So, as we can see the issues here have now been resolved but only to a certain extent. However, in many ways for this passenger was still wronged. The fact that she did not have an aisle seat was only one aspect of it. The fact that she was not treated well by staff at the time of requesting assistance was an indication of the extent of discrimination that may be present in the aviation industry as a whole towards disabled flyers. If discrimination does exist, it is an area which needs to change. To make matters worse, the air stewardess who talked to her appeared to also give the impression that most disabled passengers wear nappies on flights. So not only was the disabled flyer criticised, she was criticised in a way which suggested that what she did was wrong because it was against what was generally expected of disabled flyers.

It is clear that at the very least attitudes need to change in the industry. The law is starting to catch up however to enforce at least the practical aspects that will improve the situation for disabled flyers. A week ago, the situation improved in the US as new single aisle planes that carry more than 125 passengers will eventually be required to have at least one lavatory large enough for one disabled flyer and an attendant. This will enable easier access for disabled flyers. At the moment only the large planes with two aisles such as Boeing 747 or the Airbus 380 have that facility. The regulations came out in the Obama era to develop new rules intended to improve air travel for those with disabilities.

Concerns Raised

However, the road to the current position was a long process and there was also some concern from trade bodies connected with the industry such as the IATA (International Air Transport Association) and Airlines for America. This is because, the trade bodies, even though they supported the installation of larger lavatories for disabled flyers, felt that this would take up more space on planes reducing the number of seats that could be put in. This means that airlines would need to charge higher fares. In addition, even though the process started off in 2016, the regulations will only start to really be felt in 2035 as only new planes produced from this time will need to have the extended lavatories.


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THe IATA also raised concerns about the new US regulations. © IATA

As one can see, structural improvements in conditions for disabled flyers are taking place but this does take time. However, attitudes of staff can and should change quickly as the caring and compassionate treatment of disabled passengers is important to maximize their comfort particularly since they already face more difficulties than others when traveling. It is also important to remember that this will obviously still be the case even if good structural help is offered. Therefore, it is important that this aspect is considered also by airlines in addition to providing other facilities. We have to wait to see how this progresses.

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Amuthan Chandrarajan
Amuthan Chandrarajan
Aviation Reporter - Amuthan has a background in residential and commercial real estate. He also has a keen interest in aviation and travel and has visited many countries. Amuthan has a sound knowledge of business and finance.  He has gained a Master of Business Administration and has become a Chartered Management Accountant.