In preparation for the 2016 Paralympic Games, Reduced Mobility Rights reviewed the wheelchair assistance service and policy of TAM Airlines.
Brazil's largest airline by market share and fleet size, TAM Airlines operate a fleet of 173 aircraft to 62 domestic and international destinations. TAM is part of the LATAM Airlines Group, the result of the merger between LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines which took place in 2012.
LATAM Airlines Group is the launch customer for Space-Flex lavatory, an innovative solution that will radically improve the in-flight experience for passengers with reduced mobility on single aisle aircraft.
The two toilets, each of a size comparable with those existing in the Airbus A320 family of aircraft become one through a simple process of conversion: two Space-Flex toilets can be converted into one space for persons of reduced mobility, in a similar way to those used in wide-body Airbus aircraft.
LATAM ordered 39 A320 aircraft fitted with Space-Flex lavatories. “Space-Flex maximises the cabin revenue space and therefore gives us more flexibility in our new Airbus A320 Family aircraft,” said José Maluf of LATAM Airlines. “In the future we could easily adapt to market demand and improve seat-mile costs by adding six seats without any compromise in comfort.”
Following the announcement, and in consideration that Brazil will host the 2016 Paralympic Games, Reduced Mobility Rights has taken a closer look at TAM’s wheelchair assistance services and policies.
TAM on-board wheelchair service policy is restrictive, borderline punitive. Passengers who require an aisle chair to move about the cabin must submit a MEDIF form to the airline’s medical team at least 72 hours prior to flight departure. TAM reserves the right to deny the request for health and safety reasons, or when the service is not available.
In case the on-board wheelchair is unavailable for the day of the flight, the booking may be exchanged for another one at no extra cost, or the passenger may request a full refund.
Under the US Air Carrier Access Act, availability of on-board wheelchairs is mandatory on all flights from and to the United States. It is common practice for airlines operating long haul flights to offer this service to passengers with mobility limitations. Perhaps TAM may wish to revise its aisle chair policy which undermines the goodwill built by being the launch customer for the first ever fully accessible lavatory on single aisle aircraft.
On a brighter note, TAM Airlines offer an 80% discount on fares for travel companions when passengers are requested to travel with a safety assistant. This may be the case for people with severe mobility limitations who require assistance eating or toileting, and those passengers who may require the use medical oxygen during the flight.
The safety assistant discount is subject to approval by the TAM medical department. The travel companion must be over 18 years of age and be able to attend to the needs of the passenger for the duration of the flight.
Safety assistant tickets are issued following a special process. Travel companions must be seated next to the passenger. The airline’s safety assistant policy states that when two seats together are not available on the chosen flight, TAM will rebook the passengers on the next available flight at no extra cost.
TAM offers FREMEC (Frequent Travellers’ Medical Card) to ease the booking process for frequent flyers requiring wheelchair assistance. Thanks to this card, passengers with reduced mobility are not required to file a new MEDIF form for each flight. The expiry date of a passenger’s FREMEC is decided by TAM’s medical department.
TAM personal wheelchair policy offers free carriage of one mobility device on both domestic and international flights. Subject to national and international safety regulations, TAM carries electric wheelchairs with wet-cell, dry-cell, and gel-cell batteries on domestic and international routes. Wheelchairs with spillable batteries are accepted for carriage on domestic flights only.