Guidelines for Persons with Disabilities
Air travel is quite stressful as is, and it becomes rather burdensome when you are unable to avail the assistance you need. If you are a person with disabilities or reduced mobility, you are legally entitled to avail services from your chosen airline provider. You are also entitled to receive assistance from the airline and airport staff to make your air travel experience hassle-free.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the regulatory body under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, has laid out certain guidelines that draw attention to the various rights that are available to persons with disabilities when travelling by air. These guidelines encompass the numerous duties to be carried out by air travel staff as well as airline and airport authorities. Moreover, if the person has been refused adequate assistance or has felt ignorance on the part of the air staff, they now have provisions for grievance redressal as well. To know more about your rights with regards to ensuring a convenient air travel experience, read on.
First and foremost, it is necessary that the airline staff members are aware that they are not allowed to refuse service to persons with disabilities. Any discrimination of this nature is strictly frowned upon. This being said, it is in the person’s best interest to inform the airline beforehand, the nature of their disability and the extent of assistance that will be required by them. This information needs to be conveyed to the airlines at least 48 hours prior to the time of flight. If there is a plan for emergency travel, the airline shall not refuse to cater to the needs of the disabled person and shall make all reasonable assistance available for the passenger. After the booking has been completed, the airline staff is required to undertake the responsibility of providing assistance for seamless travel from the departure terminal to the arrival terminal.
Seating in the Flight
When it comes to ensuring your comfort for the duration of your journey, your airline provider must provide convenient seats. These seats must be designated as accessible for persons with disabilities, should include extra leg space and shall be provided to you free of additional charges. For persons requiring the aid of a stretcher/ incubator, who are unable to use the standard seating/ recliner position of their seat in the aircraft, it is required of the airlines to develop a procedure for such requests and display the same on their website. Such requests shall be made in advance and appropriate charges shall be levied for the same.
In most cases, persons with disabilities are accompanied by an aide who provides them additional assistance. In such cases, you can assuredly ask for your escort to be provided a seat next to you for the duration of the flight. The presence of disabled persons and their escorts must be conveyed to the cabin crew as well as the captain of the flight. While offloading, it is pertinent that the cabin crew shall give first priority to persons with disabilities and their escorts. If the person is travelling with a guide dog, separate procedure shall be applied. Keep in mind, a guide dog shall only be permitted in the cabin if it has been properly trained, properly harnessed, vaccinated and shall remain on the floor by the passenger’s feet and you would be required to furnish medical proof to attest to this.
Cabin Crew Duties
The cabin crew on the flight is responsible for briefing the various safety procedures to persons with disabilities. If you have a visual disability, you may request the cabin crew to brief you verbally. You are also entitled to receive a backup brochure in braille. It is the duty of the cabin crew to ensure that persons with disabilities are the first to board the flight and also the last to disembark the aircraft. In the case of a connecting flight, the information regarding the needs of the disabled passenger have to be so taken and transmitted to the concerning airline staff of the next flight, so that the passenger is not inconvenienced by having to repeat the same.
You are entitled to ask for arrangements to be made with regards to a quick delivery of your baggage upon arrival. The checked-in baggage is required to have an ‘Assistive Device’ tag along with a tag number displaying the sign of the assistive device for early detection and on-time delivery at the exit.
It is the right of the passenger to not have to produce a medical certificate indicating the nature of disability, if, the only assistance required by them is for embarking/ disembarking and reasonable in-flight accommodation. Note that, the airlines shall insist on a medical certificate only when the passenger has an actively communicable disease or an adverse medical condition that requires medical attention to maintain their health during the flight. You can be assured that all medical information furnished to the concerned authorities shall be kept strictly confidential.
Airports are required to have adequate signages throughout the airport that indicate details of the flights in a clean and unambiguous manner. All spaces that are accessible to the general public have to be made accessible to persons with disabilities as well. A provision of a helpdesk is to be established to enable persons with disabilities or reduced mobility to acquire any necessary information. Any additional charges that may be levied for supplementary assistance have to be displayed on the airport operator’s website in a conspicuous manner.
NOTE: All airline staff, airport operators, security and ground staff are required to be well-versed with the additional provisions and requirements that are to be provided to persons with disabilities or reduced mobility. They are required to undergo a sensitization and awareness training to ensure that they carry out their responsibilities effectively.
Passenger Grievance Redressal
Although these guidelines are quite extensive, the implementation of the same may not be uniform in airports throughout the country. Quite often, some staff may appear to be ignorant and not eager to provide assistance. In case a passenger believes that any of their rights or guidelines recommended by the Civil Aviation Requirements have been violated, they may address the matter to the airlines or the airport operator. Every airline is required to have an online redressal forum, wherein complaints or feedback can be issued by a passenger. Speedy and proper redressal of the complaints should and will be given utmost priority. If matters need to be taken further, airport operators are required to conspicuously display details of the Nodal Officer or concerned Appellate Authority on their website. The Online complaint handling must be taken into consideration and the internal grievance mechanism must be transparent. It is not sufficient to dismiss the matter through compensation alone. Sufficient reimbursement along with guarantee to take action for the issue should be the norm. If the complainant is dissatisfied, they may approach the statutory authorities set up – such as the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities or the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in Concerned State.
For persons with disabilities or reduced mobility, ease of travel is always of primary importance. For them, to have the adequate assistance to make their travel convenient is a right that must not be denied. With passing time, we are reaching towards becoming a more inclusive, sensitized and considerate nation. If the government authorities carry out their duties to ensure the same, we can inch closer towards an ideal society. That being said, the guidelines laid down by the Civil Aviation Requirements are reflective of this goal. The rules laid down are clear, unambiguous, extensive and has encompassed the requirements to be undertaken by all the staff concerned with air travel. An aspect that may appear to be on the periphery of the scope of their duties would be to express patience and due respect when assisting persons with disabilities, but it is to be stressed that this very aspect is what makes these guidelines cohesive and generally more effective. Air staff are to be given adequate training and reminders to showcase genuine respect and be mindful of their actions and this can undoubtedly go a long way in ensuring that these rules serve their need.
Author: Aishwarya Nair