Air travel can be a daunting experience for many people, especially those with physical disabilities. One of the key areas identified by airlines, working with industry stakeholders and disability groups for improvement is the safe transport of wheelchairs. This is due to the fact that wheelchairs are personal items and often require special attention when it comes to handling, loading and unloading from aircrafts.
The main challenge faced by airlines is to ensure that wheelchairs are transported safely without any damage or delay in their delivery. This requires careful coordination between airline staff, ground crew and other stakeholders involved in the process.
At the 2019 IATA Annual General Meeting, all attendees agreed to a Resolution aimed at making sure airlines prioritize providing safe and comfortable travel for passengers with disabilities.
In order to meet the needs of those with physical disabilities, airlines and other associated industry stakeholders have identified the successful and safe transportation of wheelchairs as an area of development. Disability groups are included in this effort to ensure an optimal experience for all passengers.
"I knew my custom-made wheelchair was going into the hold as luggage I am used to it, to lose my independence just to be able to travel," writes Nadia Hada in the EUObserver. "But I was not only losing my arms and legs during the flight, I was entering the roulette many persons with disabilities face when travelling. Would my wheelchair, the guarantee of my independence, arrive intact? Many don't."
On 8th February, 2023, IATA released new guidance to enable airlines and handling agents to safely and efficiently transport mobility aids for passengers with disabilities. This guidance should improve the overall travel experience for these individuals.
The organization's new directives stress on the importance of implementing certain procedures regulations to make air travel accessible to wheelchair users, similar to what other passengers experience.
Better processes for booking and information exchange, including the use of Special Service Request (SSR) and Passenger Name Requirement (PNR) codes to give advance information on the specifications of mobility aids;
A recommendation to create an electronic mobility aid tag, fixed to the mobility aid and containing technical information which will help airlines and ground handlers transport the aid safely;
Advice to airlines on developing a communications toolkit for engaging with passengers with disabilities, including a clearly signposted and accessible website area;
Best practices for loading, collection and return of mobility aids;
A recommendation for dedicated specialized ramp personnel to be trained and deployed to handle mobility aids;
Guidance for how to properly resolve instances where mobility aids are damaged.
“Airlines are committed to ensuring passengers with disabilities can travel with dignity, confidence and comfort. Working with representatives from the disability community, we established that new protocols to improve the transport of mobility aids were urgently required. This new guidance, created in partnership with key players in the travel chain, will improve service, and significantly reduce damage to these vital devices that are often an extension to the body of a passenger with a disability,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.
The document is now available on the IATA’s website: Access IATA Guidance on the Transport of Mobility Aids