On Glass Houses, India and Air Travel

It?s pretty well known that our ACAA and ADA (in the US) provides a decent amount of protection to disabled travelers. By that I mean, it?s not like your journey is going to go off without any glitches, but at least you are afforded certain basic rights. One of those rights is to be treated fairly and not to be charged extra because you happen to be disabled. Although this seems like common sense and not something that has to be written down, that?s not the way it is around the world.

For example, there?s the case of our good friend Michael O?Leary of Ryanair who for a time charged some disabled passengers for airport wheelchair assistance. Of course that?s history now because of court decisions and a subsequent EU regulation that prohibits that discriminatory action, but still, it happened.

And as far as I know, Air Asia and Nationwide still charge for this same assistance. So what we take for granted in North America, isn?t exactly the norm around the world.

Such is the case in India where they are trying to come up with some uniform regulations for air travel for disabled passengers. Apparently they had some proposed guidelines that were to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2008 but because of opposition by the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), those plans have been scraped. At issue is, “providing free assistance to disabled passengers”.

Now mind you, none of the Indian airlines currently charge customers for wheelchair assistance, but apparently they don?t want this legislated. They don?t want to be “denied the right to charge and recover costs for services provided” in the future. They also pointed out that earlier versions of the regulation allowed the airlines to “charge for any additional service provided to passengers with special needs”.

In looking deeper into the issue, it appears the big airline complaint isn?t about providing free wheelchair assistance at airports, but instead more about the logistics of stretcher travel. The new rule states that airlines can?t refuse to transport a person in a stretcher if they are accompanied by a caregiver, but apparently it makes no stipulation about what they can charge for this service. In other words since a stretcher takes up the space of nine seats, the FIA feels it should be able to charge for those nine seats; however because the new regulation states that you can?t charge disabled passengers more for services, it would appear that they could only charge stretcher passengers for one seat.

I?m not sure that?s exactly fair. I mean if you take up nine seats, you should be charged for the space. That?s the way it works for stretcher travel here in the US. And lets not even talk about Southwest Airlines, who charges “people of size” for two seats. And if you travel with a vent and it takes up an extra seat, you have to pay for that extra seat. Heck, if you travel with a cello and it takes up an extra seat, you pay for the extra seat.

Bottom line, there are a few holes in the new regulations, but at least they are working on them. It?s a work in progress and I expect to hear more about it throughout the year. But then again, our own Access Guidelines for Passenger Vessels (cruise ships) is also a work in progress (sigh), and you know what they say about the whole glass house crowd. Personally I?m looking (and hoping) for some progress on that front as well this year.

OK, I?m crawling back into my corner and putting my stones down now.