The US Department of Transportation is reminding airlines of their direct responsibility for assisting passengers with disabilities at European airports.
The key differences between American and European disability anti-discrimination legislation reside on who is responsible for providing support to passengers and the applicability of the law.
In the United States airlines are responsible to assist disabled passengers; in Europe airports and airlines share the responsibility, with the largest number of support tasks assigned to airports.
Applicability is also different; US legislation, CFR 14 Part 382, applies to all American carriers’ operations and aircraft, regardless of their destination, and to all foreign airlines lights that begin or end at a US airport and to aircraft used for these flights. This means that foreign carriers’ compliance to US law ends when the passenger with special needs embarks or leaves the aircraft at a foreign airport.
European legislation, Regulation EC1107/2006, applies to all European airlines flights and aircraft, but only to foreign airlines flights (not aircraft) departing from the European Union. This means that compliance to EU law ends once the foreign carrier aircraft departing from Europe closes its doors.
European Airlines, who do not have direct control over assistance services provided at EU airports, face the possibility of enforcement action because of applicability gaps in the framework of European legislation.
“DOT rules require that US and EU airlines provide assistance to passengers with disabilities at EU airports for flights to and from the United States, if assistance is not already provided by the airport,” a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation told Reduced Mobility Rights on Monday. “The flight may make a stop before reaching its final destination. If the airline fails to do so, it may face DOT enforcement action.”
The DoT leaves no room for interpretation on applicability of US law. “On flights arriving in the EU from the US, service is from the airplane seat to the connecting flight or through immigrations, baggage claim, and customs, and then to public transportation. On flights from the EU, service is from check in (ticket counter or at kerbside) to the seat on the airplane.”
ECAC, European Civil Aviation Conference, Doc 30 Part 1, clearly highlights the issue. “In every case the airline is held responsible of any breach of Part 382 even in circumstances where the delivery is, under European law, the responsibility of the airport. If the facilities and services provided by the airport under Regulation 1107/2006 do not meet the requirements of Part 382, the carrier is obliged to supplement them in order to meet the performance requirements for assistance set out in Part 382.”
Astonishingly for airlines, the ECAC acknowledgement introduces an element of redundancy unforeseen in the European Regulation implying carriers have to supplement services where airports, already paid by airlines, fail to deliver assistance within acceptable quality standards.
“The airline can be held responsible if the airport provided accommodations in the EU are inadequate,” the DoT spokesperson said.