Travel providers could be leaving themselves open to legal action from disabled travellers, says David Bott, senior partner of Bott and Co. Here, he outlines what airlines, tour operators and other travel providers need to do to make sure disabled travellers are properly cared for.
Being able to travel without limits should be possible for everyone, whether able bodied or not. Unfortunately this wish often doesn't translate into reality. I've heard of cases that are frustrating or inconvenient for holidaymakers with reduced mobility, but the other end of the spectrum sadly sees disabled customers being treated with utter disdain by holiday providers, often being subjected to degrading circumstances
Such huge lapses in care for disabled people that wish to enjoy their holiday, just like anybody else, are completely unacceptable. Airlines and tour operators should strive to put a disabled person in the same position as somebody that is fully able, and they are obliged to do so by law. The essence of the role of a tour operator is to make sure that a holiday is suitable for the individuals it is booked for, this encompasses the location, facilities available and nearby attractions. The same, if not more emphasis should be put on ensuring that a holiday is suitable for a person with a disability.
Disabilities are different for individual people and so care should be taken at the point of booking to ensure that travel providers have a full understanding of the customers disabilities and what this means in terms of needs for adjustment when abroad. Bott and Co have come across many cases of neglect by holiday providers towards people with reduced mobility. Holidays should be for everyone, but we're seeing cases where customers have made a tour operator aware of their needs from the offset, yet experienced a holiday that was completely unsuitable or had key aspects ruined due to lack of care and awareness.
Lack of communication
It seems that one element may be lack of communication. At the time of booking, tour operators should ensure that there is an option for the customer's disability to be noted if they so wish so that all the necessary steps can be put in place to safeguard themselves but most importantly guarantee the customer is as comfortable as possible throughout their trip, from the flights to in-resort.
Another element that is contributing to this issue is that third party contractors and suppliers are not being given the necessary information by the holiday provider, resulting in people with specific needs being let down or not being able to enjoy every aspect of the trip. An example of this is that operators have a duty to tell airlines if their customer needs assistance at the airport or on board an aircraft. Ultimately the tour operator has a responsibility to ensure that the customer gets what they booked in line with their specifications, for example, someone in a wheelchair should be provided with a disabled access room on the ground floor and a welfare taxi transfer.
An air carrier or its agent/tour operator should not deny somebody a flight reservation or special assistance at the airport due to a disability. Passengers with reduced mobility should be the first on the plane, and the last off the plane, so they feel at ease and experience minimal disruption. I've heard all too many cases in which airlines have neglected the needs of disabled passengers, some of which strike me as downright inhumane, such as incident concerning the BBC's Frank Gardner, who was left on the plane after all other passengers had departed because special assistance staff failed to turn up.
With this in mind, passengers with reduced mobility should play their part in ensuring that everything is being done to make their travel as seamless as possible, forewarning an airline of any special requirements at least 48 hours prior to traveling, so that airlines have no excuses to fall back on.
It's paramount that people with reduced mobility aren't discouraged from booking a holiday because of fears around accessibility, and it's equally important that, should the worst happen, holidaymakers are aware of their legal rights. EC1107/2006 protects disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when airborne, outlining that 'an air carrier shall not refuse, on the grounds of disability or of reduced mobility; to accept a reservation for a flight and to embark a disabled person or a person with reduced mobility at such an airport'. Boosting passengers' rights further is Article 11 of EU Regulation 261/2004, which states: "Operating air carriers shall give priority to carrying persons with reduced mobility and any persons or certified service dogs accompanying them, as well as unaccompanied children." Similarly, Article 9 of the Regulation states that persons with reduced mobility should be given the right to care as soon as possible.
The Equality Act 2010
Section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 is crystal clear on the point that disabled holidaymakers deserve first and foremost to enjoy a holiday just as an able-bodied person would. It states: "Where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a disadvantage in comparison to a person who is not disabled, there is a requirement to take steps as is reasonable to avoid the disadvantage".
Examples of these 'steps' that tour operators must take to make a disabled person as comfortable as possible include putting them in a ground floor room if necessary, or in a room with a designated disabled-access bathroom.
If there is any infringement to the Equality Act, a claim can be made. An interesting caveat to the Act is that 'injured feelings' can be claimed for, so the Act not only takes into account accessibility and physical needs, but also doesn't diminish feelings of upset and disappointment.
Campbell v Thomas Cook Tour Operations Ltd 2004 highlighted how injured feelings can provide significant grounds for a claim. The customer, who suffers with arthritis and struggles with walking and standing, had booked a holiday in Tunisia, but at Monastir Airport, she was treated badly at the hands of Thomas Cook staff. Having told a staff member that she was in pain and couldn't stand for much longer, her worries were dismissed as she was told that nothing could be done, and there was no attempt to source a wheelchair. The customer then found the pain too unbearable, so she sat on a luggage weighing platform, but was soon asked to stand. Fellow passengers were helping her rather than airline staff, and after a four hour ordeal, she was exhausted, with aches in her legs and hips.
When she returned to the airport the next day, she was anxious after her ordeal and then endured bouts of projectile vomiting. After a lengthy legal process against the tour operator for discrimination, the customer was awarded £7,500 in compensation for injury to feelings. The Judge said that compensation was awarded as Thomas Cook representatives failed to show "common humanity" and make any reasonable adjustments for Campbell. This case in particular was significant as it sets a precedent that despite the discrimination taking place outside of Great Britain, the Equality Act 2010 still applies due to the package holiday being purchased in Britain. It's fantastic to see the law in action protecting passengers with reduced mobility - but note that the limitation period for the Equality Act is six months, which means that a dissatisfied holidaymaker wishing to make a claim must do so within six months of returning home.
Is the holiday fit for purpose?
Legislation that is firmly on the side of holidaymakers is the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Under this, there is an explicit obligation from the 'trader' to supply a service with 'reasonable care and skill'. Tour operators are expected to advise consumers about appropriate holidays and accommodation in line with their individual needs, including reduced mobility or disability. A consumer could be owed damages if a holiday isn't 'fit for purpose' if all parts of the contract, such as the promise of ramped access or mobility equipment, have not been delivered.
A breach of contract?
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 is beneficial to holidaymakers as it dictates that a package travel contract must not be altered without the express agreement of the traveller before the contract's conclusion. Aspects of a holiday that cannot be altered includes the location and main features of the accommodation, travel itinerary and excursions included in the package's price, whether the trip is generally suitable for persons with reduced mobility and the suitability of the trip taking into account a traveller's needs. Something customers could ask themselves is: "Did the airline or tour operator make 'reasonable adjustments' to make sure I was comfortable?" If the answer to this is no, a travel provider might be exposed to a claim.
Courtesy of Travelmole
My comment elsewhere regarding Manchester Airport and the long trek to the gates amply demonstrates (in my opinion) how little understanding there is. Yes you can book assistance but many of us have no wish to do so but that is not to say we are without problems.
Personally I suffer from Osteoarthritis in both knees and ankles. According to the specialist it is a self-inflicted condition in my case – when we are younger we run and jump around and the result is what I have finished up with although I confess I got a great deal of pleasure from my outdoor pursuits so I can’t complain.
Of course it is not just travelling around the country or the world that throws up problems. Visit a car park, shopping centre or Supermarket and there are car park spaces for holders of Blue Badges (as well as the mother and child spaces) but if like me your disability is hidden from view – I have good days and bad, on the bad I use a walking stick - but as I said when I wrote about Manchester Airport the long walk becomes a problem. It should not require Acts of Parliament to address the problem – we all get old so why wait until it effects you personally.
In many years of flying, she only encountered problems on two occasions. One was due to the parsimony of Ryannair compounded by the incompetence of the cabin crew and we've never flown with them since. The other was when a family argued that their need to sit together because of the age of their children trumped her need to have a medical seat close to the door. It only added insult to injury that despite checking in before us, we could see them arguing with the check-in staff ahead of us in the queue little realising what the argument was about, that they had to be paged in the departure lounge and were the very last to board and held everybody up. They dashe on just before the cabin crew were about to close the aircraft door for take-off and give up on the em as a 'no show'. In that instance the situation was saved by a couple of fellow passengers who when they realised that my Mum, Dad and I were not only being seated apart but were spread over the whole of the aircraft, offered to swap their seats with my Mum and Dad so that my Mum could have an aisle seat rather than the middle one of three between solo travellers that we'd all been allocated at check-in.
Her holidays are her lifeline as, at home, she rarely gets out & about. The main reason is it takes her so long to get to the car & her husband has to pack up the scooter, help her to the car, then it's putting the scooter back together, helping her out of the car & onto scooter at their destination &, of course the same for the return. It's so tiring for her she feels a short run out isn't worth it. Plus, the effort leaves her very tired & her legs ache.
She does however love her holidays as she's always been a very sociable person plus, it's a change of scenery with fresh air & blue skies.
Planning a holiday takes lots of research for her, but, despite her best efforts things don't always go to plan. A hotel she recently booked described itself as disabled friendly with a ramp at the entrance. On arriving, they discovered that this ramp was very steep, too narrow & with a sharp turn so was unusable for her scooter to have access. She had to climb, with her husbands assistance, into the hotel. Consequently, she couldn't leave the hotel & spent the next 7 days in her room.
Airlines can be a problem also. She has to use the ambulift which is fine, except on arriving at their destination, the ambulift will be sent to the other end of the aircraft on occasions. They expect her to walk from one end of the plane to the other. There's been a few times when she has had to stick to her guns & insist they bring the lift to the end of the plane nearest to her.
Glynis HT Admin
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