Online travel agents have serious questions to answer after a review of top travel agents found all but two websites in breach of disability legislation.
The UK government widely relies on industry self-compliance with the law regulating access to air travel for passengers with disabilities, EU Regulation 1107/2006.
Article 6.C of ABTA's Code of Conduct states that all members shall "comply with all relevant statutory and regulatory requirements."
Article 4.3 of the Regulation states that “An air carrier or its agent shall make publicly available, in accessible formats and in at least the same languages as the information made available to other passengers, the safety rules that it applies to the carriage of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility, as well as any restrictions on their carriage or on that of mobility equipment due to the size of aircraft.”
Following the above criteria, on 31 July 2013 Reduced Mobility Rights reviewed the websites of Just The Flight (www.justtheflight.co.uk), NetFlights (www.netflights.com), Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.co.uk), eBookers (www.ebookers.com), Travelocity (www.travelocity.co.uk), TravelSupermarket (www.travelsupermarket.com), CheapOair (www.cheapoair.co.uk), Opodo (www.opodo.co.uk), Expedia (www.expedia.co.uk), Fly (www.fly.co.uk), Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com), Cheap Flights (www.cheapflights.co.uk), Last Minute (www.lastminute.com).
The only two online travel agents websites in compliance with Regulation 1107/2006 are NetFlights and Cheap Flights. Both websites feature exhaustive information for travellers with special needs. Users of the NetFlights website can access the special assistance page directly from the homepage or via the “Useful Tips” page. CheapFlights customers can access the special assistance page via the “Useful Tips” section.
Just The Flight makes mention of some special assistance requirements in the website’s Terms & Conditions. However, there is no mention whatsoever in all other parts of the website, including the FAQs.
ABTA member Flight Centre makes no mention whatsoever of information for passengers with disabilities. We surfed every corner of the Flight Centre website and found no information for travellers with special needs. Ironically, FlightCentre.co.uk is a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Charity which grants magical wishes to children and young people fighting life-threatening conditions.
eBookers make only mention of their pre-notification for special assistance requirement in its Terms & Conditions page. There is no other mention whatsoever of essential or relevant disability related information throughout the travel agent website.
Travelocity does not make mention of any special assistance information or requirement in any part of its website, including the Terms & Conditions. The only relevant information found using the search feature on Travelocity FAQs section is that “facilities for disabled passengers will differ from airport to airport, therefore to ensure the car park can meet your individual needs please check with Holiday Extras on 0800 093 5478.”
TravelSupermarket resells services provided by other online agents; however, in the process, the website acts as agent towards general public, as it receives a commission on sales. On this principle the website has to comply with EC1107/2006. Eventually, there is no direct or indirect mention to services and assistance for passengers with special needs on the popular price comparison website.
CheapOair makes no mention whatsoever of mandatory information for passengers with disabilities anywhere on its website, including the online travel agent Terms & Conditions page. Ironically, CheapOair supports numerous charities.
Opodo makes no mention of required information in an accessible shape or format. The only mention found on the popular agent website is on page nine of Opodo’s FAQs, and refers to the possibility of pre-booking wheelchair assistance at airports.
The popular Expedia website does not make mention of required information for passengers with special needs anywhere in its website. A search in the FAQs section using the search terms “disability” and “disabled” returned no result.
The website of Fly.co.uk mirrors the ones of other offenders with an added negative twist. There is no mandatory information for passengers with disabilities anywhere on the Fly website. However, passengers with special needs who may wish to call the website customer services must be aware that calls are charged 51 pence per minute from a BT landline and considerably more from a mobile phone.
Travelzoo website makes no mention of mandatory information. However, the website boasts the company’s sustainability and social responsibility commitment "to respect and show consideration for people and the environment around us, and educate and inform."
LastMinute.com make no mention of mandatory information for passengers with special needs. In the website’s customer support Frequently Asked Questions section, we found the following statement: “Each airline has its own policies for passengers who need special assistance while travelling. Please contact us and we'll gladly help you. Alternatively you may wish to contact the airline direct.”
Our findings have been forwarded to the Civil Aviation Authority, National Enforcement Body for Regulation 1107/2006.
It is quite clear that reliance on self-compliance is widely ineffective and hinders access to air travel for passengers with special needs. However, members of the public may send a wake-up call to all online travel agents not complying with existing anti-discrimination regulation by stopping using their services until they fully comply with the law.