Last week provided a wealth of defining moments in the quest to understand the rights of disabled passengers in the UK.
On Monday, human rights campaigners spearheaded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission bitterly criticized the so called "Fat Tax" ruling.
The Court of Appeal dismissed cases filed by disabled passengers against British Airways and Thomas Cook airlines, ruling that the Montreal Convention, a framework of international rules and regulations on air travel, takes precedence over British law.
“The decision renders the regulation regarding air travel for disabled passengers toothless. It offers no protection for disabled travellers who are discriminated against while flying. It also means that disabled passengers cannot get compensation even after an airline has been found to be discriminatory by the Courts,” John Wadham, Group Director of Legal at the EHRC, said.
On Tuesday, it was defendant Thomas Cook's turn to voice their opinion, accusing the EHRC of misrepresenting the rulings. "There is quite simply no additional right to further compensation for injury to feelings, and we have been concerned by comments made by the EHRC which have misrepresented the Court of Appeal's decision which makes it clear that the protections offered under 1107 continue to be in place," Andy Cooper, Thomas Cook UK & Ireland's Director of Government and External Affairs, told Reduced Mobility Rights.
On Wednesday came a head spinning U-turn of the chief human rights activist. the EHRC unexpectedly agreed with Thomas Cook. "The appeal court’s decision is clear that any claims for compensation for disability discrimination and injury to feelings are prevented by the Montreal Convention," an EHRC spokesperson said. "Notwithstanding that, the protections offered under the European Directive 1107 remain in place."
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation reminded Europeans how disabled rights are enforced across the Atlantic, fining Allegiant airlines for failing to follow the DoT disability dispute handling rules.
Let's now see where rights of disabled passengers stand at the end of this week. In a nutshell, the rights of passengers with reduced mobility exist on paper, but not in reality.
Enforcement of EU 1107/2006, the regulation identifying the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air, is limited to criminal prosecution. In other words, the national enforcer is toothless. "Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action," Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority said.
Disabled passengers who choose to file compensation claims for violations of EU 1107/2006 will see their cases fail. "Neither the EC Regulation nor Regulation 9 of the UK Regulations creates a private law cause of action sounding in damages,” the Honourable Mr Justice Supperstone said, dismissing the appeal of the disabled child Tony Hook.
By the looks of it, this is quite a gloomy scenario. However, the deafening silence of the Department For Transport, who is responsible for the legislation in this area, makes the picture gloomier.
There is a glimmer of hope. Couple of weeks ago I corresponded with the cabinet of the EU Transport Commissioner, Mr Siim Kallas. "The Department for Transport (DfT) is currently in discussion with the CAA and is considering complementing those criminal penalties with appropriate civil sanctions. The [EU] Commission is closely following this issue and is, like you, of the opinion that this is highly advisable in order to have full respect of the Regulation."
To summarize, at the end of this frantic week we know that, in the UK, rights of disabled passengers exist only paper. We know some campaigners are not as accurate as they should be, we know the EU commission wants the UK to have administrative enforcement powers (fines), and we know who is responsible for the current state of affairs: The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport.