The GDA and Access4All have been involved in a number of initiatives to do with making travel more accessible for people with disabilities. This blog explains the situation concerning air travel.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the UN Convention), and the legislation it has spawned, have transformed travel by air (and by sea) in many parts of the world, and made travel more accessible. Guernsey’s government has agreed to adopt the Convention.
Legislation, including European Regulations, govern how assistance must be given to people with restricted mobility (passengers with disabilities) and how people must be cared for, and compensated, should their travel be delayed or cancelled.
Of course, Guernsey isn’t in the EU, but it has still benefited, to some extent, from these Regulations. Some flights (depending on the airline and where a flight originates) to and from Guernsey are covered by EU Regulations. With regard to travel by sea, Condor Ferries now applies the provisions and principles of the EU Regulations to all its sailings.
In the EU, airport authorities are legally responsible for assisting passengers while they are on airport premises. Practically, this may be done by the airport appointing a third-party to manage passenger assistance, with the costs then recovered from the airlines. Guernsey’s Airport Authority is not required to comply with EU Regulations and any arrangements made to assist people with disabilities at Guernsey Airport are largely split, with the Airport Authority offering assistance from arrival to the check in desk and the Airlines then taking on responsibility for the passenger from the check-in desk to boarding.
This situation has meant that the standards of assistance, when departing from or arriving into Guernsey, may depend on which airline a passenger is flying with. In the past, this has even meant the difference between being able to travel or not, simply because some airlines were better equipped than others. It also means assistance is not “seamless” as EU Regs, and best practice, require.
Aurigny, Blue Islands, and other airlines not licensed by an EU Member State (Non-EU Community Carriers) are only required to comply with EU Regs on flights which start from an EU Member State (UK & France, for example).
Confused about how the EU Community Carrier thing affects your rights? You would not be alone, and the GDA has been concerned that disabled passengers, travelling with airlines who are not Community Carriers, arriving into or departing from Guernsey, or delayed in Guernsey, are potentially getting a lesser deal. These anomalies may not reflect well on Guernsey or help give confidence to people with disabilities travelling to and from our island.
We should be clear, this does not mean that disabled passengers do not get any support when travelling from Guernsey, but it does mean the right to expect certain standards is not granted, standardised, or protected, by law.
The GDA has been in discussion with Aurigny and Guernsey Airport Authority to see if passenger rights might be recognised further, and to see if arrangements for assistance might be improved, and standardised, at Guernsey airport.
The expected disability discrimination legislation will mean that passengers with disabilities will be able to challenge any policy or system which adversely affects them more than non-disabled passengers.
However, individual complaint is often adversarial and may not be the best way to achieve better standards – nor are such complaints likely to help improve attitudes towards disability. For these reasons, the GDA has put forward a proposal that an Air Access Charter be agreed and adopted by the airport authority and the airlines which, to an extent, would mirror the provisions of EU Regulations.
The Charter is being drafted and is hoped to be in place before this summer. In the meantime, Aurigny has published two separate leaflets explaining the difference in the rights the company recognises depending on whether a passenger’s journey starts from Guernsey or from an EU Member State. Guernsey Airport also has information on its website, which includes contact numbers to call to pre-book assistance.
The chart below explains the current situation.