Under-fire airline targeted by Union plans for disabled

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.32, 6.9.01, p2
Publication Date 06/09/2001
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Date: 06/09/01

By Laurence Frost

RYANAIR is the unnamed target of planned EU legislation forcing airlines to provide free help to elderly and disabled passengers.

The Irish 'no-frills' carrier is under renewed fire for its failure to provide wheelchairs for passengers needing them to get to and from its planes.

The European Commission is naming no names as it prepares to unveil binding legislation to make it compulsory for airlines to provide the assistance free of charge in such cases.

But disabled campaigners and aviation industry representatives are united in their condemnation of Ryanair - the only airline which makes disabled passengers pay more. "There have been complaints from disabled people where Ryanair charged for assistance and also refused boarding," said Sophie Beaumont of the European Disability Forum. "As far as I know it is the only carrier doing this as a matter of policy."

Although free wheelchair assistance is included in a voluntary agreement on air passenger rights agreed with European airlines and airports earlier this year, low-cost carriers including Ryanair have refused to sign it. "Hence the need for legislation which we will now have to support," said Sefik Yücksel of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), which represents the Union's larger carriers.

Faced with Ryanair's policy of making wheelchair users pay, the AEA recently agreed - along with representatives of regional and charter airlines as well as airports - to abandon the voluntary approach to disabled access and back new binding rules. "I think the mood in the industry is that such practices give aviation a bad name and should be outlawed," said John Hume of Airports Council International. "No other airline is doing this - it gives them a clear competitive advantage."

Ryanair said that only passengers travelling without their own wheelchairs were required to pay a "nominal fee" to a separate ground handling company - for instance, €13 at Dublin airport. "We're a low-cost airline," said Ryanair spokesman Enda O'Toole. "Wheelchair provision is one of the services we don't provide. Keeping costs low enables us to pass on the savings to consumers and guarantee the lowest price."

Proposals for binding legislation will be included in a consultation paper to be published by the Commission later this year. "There will be something to say that airlines will carry disabled passengers and get them off the plane free of charge," an official said. "If it means other passengers have to pay a euro more for their tickets then so be it."

Complaints against Ryanair, whose destinations include London Stansted, Brussels South (Charleroi) and Treviso-Venice, were cited by Irish airport company Aer Rianta as the reason for a 1999 bye-law obliging airlines to provide "reasonable facilities" for their disabled passengers.

Ryanair is the unnamed target of planned EU legislation forcing airlines to provide free help to elderly and disabled passengers.

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