> The Deal Experts Travel Tips Blog > Expert tips on air travel for those with reduced mobility

Expert tips on air travel for those with reduced mobility

1) Tell us more about article 4.3 of the EU Regulation 1107/2006.

On the 5 July, 2006, the European Parliament adopted Regulation (EC) 1107/2006, which identifies the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air.

Article 4.3 defines what information airlines, their agents and tour operators must make available to passengers with disabilities, primarily safety rules and restrictions to carriage due to the size of the aircraft.

By example, special-categories passengers (SCPs) can comprise a maximum of 50% of capacity on any given flight. Special-category passengers are children under the age of 12, pregnant women, passengers with reduced mobility or other impairments, prisoners and deportees. This criterion defines a one-to-one ratio between passengers who may require assistance in case of an emergency evacuation and those who may help. Transport of up to two mobility devices, guide dogs and medicines is always free of charge when flying within the EU, or when flying outside the EU on a European airline. Different rules apply to non-European carriers. However, some airlines may impose stricter limits because of the size of the aircraft or other safety considerations. The most common safety restriction is that SCPs cannot be seated in emergency seats. There are technical restrictions concerning the carriage of electric wheelchairs, which may not weigh more than 200 kilograms. The number of electric wheelchairs carried per flight depends on the size of the aircraft. There can also be restrictions on the maximum number of guide dogs accepted on board the aircraft, normally four per flight.

2) What tips would you give travellers with reduced mobility when it comes to airline travel?

Wheelchair-accessible holidays and cheap international air travel have made flying with a disability a viable option for disabled people. A seamless journey begins with good planning. First and foremost, you need to create a checklist. Identify what kind of support your impairment requires, bearing in mind that physical, cognitive, visual or hearing impairments may require tailor-made assistance.

Once you have chosen your destination, take some time to check the available facilities and services at departure and arrival airports. Make sure that connections and transportation are accessible to meet your mobility requirements. The vast majority of airports have customer-care phone numbers or email support. If you cannot find the information you need on their website, call them or send them an email.

Take out disability insurance. Cheap air travel and cheap holidays are affordable, not free. Life is unpredictable, so it is always wiser to spend some time browsing disability insurance options and buying cover that suits your needs.

Always let the airline know of your needs and requirements at the time of booking. Make sure you receive written acknowledgement or confirmation of your request for assistance. Print it out and keep it with you throughout your journey. Transport of up to two mobility devices, guide dogs and medical equipment/supplies is always free of charge when flying within Europe, or outside Europe when travelling with a European airline.

At the airport

Large, crowded airports can be challenging environments for people with autism, cognitive impairment, disabled children and the elderly. Most airports make printable maps of the terminal buildings available on their websites. It is always a good idea to have a copy with you to help you move about the terminal and reach services or designated areas faster.

Assistance at airports is always free in Europe, where tipping agents is not allowed. On the contrary, tipping wheelchair agents in the United States and other countries is common practice.

Pre-booking assistance is essential when travelling to or within Europe. Your airline will let airports know of your request for assistance. Remember to let the airline know when booking your flight! Best travel tip: it is always a good idea to pre-book assistance regardless of your destination.

Remember to keep with you any medicine you may require during your journey. It is always a good idea to carry some water and food (biscuits, chips or other snacks) since not all airside waiting areas are close to food courts or vending machines. Remember to buy water or other drinks after you have cleared security, or they will be confiscated.

While airport infrastructure is generally wheelchair accessible, not all check-in desks, information desks, passport-control booths, shops and restaurants are accessible to disabled people. Hearing-impaired passengers travelling through European airports are likely to find few support tools, primarily in the form of induction loops.

On board the aircraft

Travelling with electric wheelchairs is common practice across the airline industry. However, some airlines still impose weight limits. Remember that electric wheelchairs powered with wet-cell batteries may not be accepted on board. Always check with the airline at the time of booking to avoid disappointment on the day of travel.

Most airlines will require you travel with a companion if you are unable to buckle or unbuckle your seat belt on your own, retrieve and wear your life jacket, put on an oxygen mask, make your way (not necessarily by walking) to the emergency exit or if you are unable to understand and react to safety instructions. Best travel tip: some airlines offer discounted fares for travel companions. Always check with the carrier at the time of booking.

Not all aircraft, especially smaller ones, low-cost carriers and those operating short-haul routes, have on-board aisle chairs. Remember to check availability with the airline at the time of booking if you require an on-board wheelchair to move about the cabin.

Cabin crew will help you in and out of your seat, to and from toilets, and will assist you storing your hand luggage in the overhead bins. However, they will not help you to eat or use the toilet, or give you medication.

Not all aircraft are equipped with seats with movable armrests. Remember to tell the airline at the time of booking so that you can be seated in the seat that best matches your needs.

The vast majority of airlines provide passengers with different meal options. Take some time to browse dietary options available on your flight. However, it is always wise to have a plan B in place -- pack some suitable, non-perishable food in your carry-on luggage.

Movie captioning is available on most long-haul flights; however, ISL (International Sign Language) safety-instruction leaflets are still rare. Safety-instruction leaflets in Braille are becoming more and more common across the airline industry.

Travelling long haul may require passengers to make frequent 'pit stops'; over-65s and passengers with physical impairments should ask to be seated closer to toilets. Most modern long-haul aircraft are fitted with at least one accessible toilet.

Travel tips essentials

  • Plan your trip in detail before booking your flight
  • Take out disability travel insurance
  • Let the airline know of your assistance requirements at the time of booking your flight
  • Choose a seating arrangement that best matches your needs
  • Choose a dietary option that best meets your requirements
  • Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare
  • Make sure you have all your medications with you in your carry-on luggage
  • Have a plan B in place in case you get hungry and your suitable dietary options are not available

3) How can travellers with reduced mobility find out more about their rights when travelling overseas?

A survey conducted in 2012 by the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland in conjunction with the European Consumer Centre Ireland and the Irish Commission for Aviation Regulation found that five out of six disabled passengers are totally unaware of their rights when travelling by air.

The European Commission recently launched a new two-year campaign. Eye-catching posters will be displayed in airports, ports, and bus and train stations across Europe, and leaflets and online information will be available in all EU languages. A free mobile application to check your rights immediately and on the spot is part of this campaign. The app is available on four popular mobile platforms: Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android, RIM Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7.

The Italian Civil Aviation Authority (Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile or ENAC) is the first European national enforcement body to launch a smartphone application providing guidance to passengers with disabilities travelling by air.

Available in Italian, English, Spanish and French, the application provides useful info on disabled passengers' rights, as well as guidance on which services are available to passengers requiring assistance, how to book them and how to complain when services do not meet standards. The app is free and available for iPhone and Android.

Passengers with special needs are welcome to contact Reduced Mobility Rights, the only access-focused organisation constantly assessing accessibility and assistance services at airports across the world. Our airport-accessibility audits are available to the public on our website. We also offer free, independent advice to passengers with special needs and can assist those preparing to travel by air.

In the unlikely event that passengers experience a breakdown in communication or poor access, Reduced Mobility Rights is available to offer free, independent advice on how to complain with the airport or airline. If requested, we can handle the complaint on the passenger’s behalf. Our expanding network within the aviation industry is a powerful asset available to passengers. We are often able to shorten response times and reach amicable complaint resolution.

4) Anything you'd like to add?

Despite the duties placed on us all in society, sometime we observe situations in which people with disabilities bear the brunt of discrimination. The concept of disability rights is far from being widespread. Being a frequent flier, I have become more and more aware of the obstacles and difficulties people with reduced mobility may encounter when travelling by air. This is why providing civil-aviation authorities, airports and airlines with strategic guidance, practical advice and cutting-edge solutions to support the evolving needs of passengers with special needs has become my mission statement. As a member of the UK Civil Aviation Authority Access To Air Travel Working Group and the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group, I relentlessly advocate access to air travel for all. Travelling by air for passengers with special needs is a reality. We must continue working to make every journey better.


Roberto Castiglioni is the founder and editor-in-chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, who work to promote disabled access in aviation by working with policy-makers, national enforcers, associations, airports and airlines. Reduced Mobility Rights provide the aviation industry with expert advice and guidance to implement new support processes and procedures, and seek to increase public awareness on the subject of accessible travel by air

Share with friends

  •  Facebook Facebook
  •  Twitter Twitter
  • RSS Feeds RSS Feeds »
Tips by

Deal Expert, Manchester
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
See more Tips from
Chris Webber