Assistance provided by Air Carriers
Booking your flight
You air carrier will indicate how you can request assistance during the booking process i.e. they will specify an email address or a telephone number which you can use to contact them and explain your particular requirements. In order to be assured of assistance, you must notify your air carrier of your needs at least 48hrs before your scheduled departure time (though it is recommended that you give them as much notice as possible). Your air carrier will then notify the airport management bodies on your behalf.
This Office recommends that you give as much information as possible to your air carrier at this stage to avoid any subsequent difficulties e.g. if you are a wheelchair user you need to provide the make, model and dimensions of your wheelchair together with the UN number of the battery which powers it. You will need to provide similar information if you wish to transport a portable oxygen concentrator or another portable electronic device. Remember that some air carriers may have size or space restrictions so accurate information regarding the size of your equipment is very important.
If the nature of your disability is quite severe and the air carrier has concerns about your safety on-board, it may require you to travel with someone who is capable of helping you during the flight. However the person accompanying you will be required to pay for his/her flight as normal.
Remember that under the rules, air carriers can only refuse your reservation if:
- they have a valid safety reason for doing so; or
- the size of the aircraft doors would make boarding physically impossible.
If your air carrier refuses your reservation, then it should make reasonable efforts to propose an alternative to you. It should also immediately explain why it has refused you and if you ask for this information in writing, you are entitled to receive it within 5 working days.
On-board the aircraft
The airport management body is responsible for helping you into your seat and for storing your hand-baggage. From then until the time you are ready to disembark the aircraft after the flight, it is your air carrier that is responsible for helping you if you need assistance.
Whilst your air carrier must make all reasonable efforts to arrange seating which suits you,
this does not necessarily mean that you will be able to freely choose your seat on-board. Air carriers must comply with other safety laws and requirements which influence the seating available to persons with reduced mobility and disabled persons and these requirements can vary from carrier to carrier. Ideally you should speak to your air carrier at the time of booking to ensure that they can provide seating which best meets your needs.
If, at the time of booking your air carrier informed you that in light of the nature of your disability, you were required to be accompanied by someone who could help you during the flight, then it will try to ensure that the accompanying person is sitting beside you on-board although this is not guaranteed.
If you need the help of a recognised assistance dog, your air carrier must allow the animal to travel with you in the cabin provided it complies with all aspects of the ‘Pet Passport’ Rules.
The Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine is responsible for administering the ‘Pet Passport’ Rules in Ireland. It explains that recognised assistance dogs means guide dogs or other assistance dogs who are specifically trained to assist a wide range of disabled persons with every day tasks. It also advises that guide dogs must be trained by an organisation that is accepted by, and affiliated to, the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) and assistance dogs must be trained by an organisation affiliated with Assistance Dogs International (ADI). For more information about the ‘Pet Passport’ scheme, please click here.
Mobility & Medical Equipment
In addition to medical equipment, the air carrier must allow you to bring up to two pieces of mobility equipment with you e.g. electric wheelchairs, scooters etc. These will generally be stowed in the aircraft hold. As mentioned in the ‘booking your flight’ section above, you should provide as much information about your equipment as possible when requesting assistance to avoid any problems arising at the airport. The reason for this is that your air carrier must comply with other laws regarding safety and the carriage of dangerous goods and it needs to be sure that your equipment would not breach these laws. You should be aware that the rules relating to safety on-board an aircraft take precedence over individual requirements therefore an air carrier will not obliged to accommodate mobility or medical equipment if it is not authorised to do so by its safety regulator.
Under the rules, the air carrier is required to help you to reach the on-board toilet facilities if the need arises. However you must be in a position to use the facilities yourself.
Your air carrier will communicate any essential information about the flight to you either verbally, in writing or in another format which is more suitable for you.
If you have a complaint about any aspect of the information or assistance provided to you by your air carrier, then you must first bring it to their attention. If your air carrier does not resolve the complaint to your satisfaction, then you can escalate it to the appropriate enforcement body. The full list of EU National Enforcement Bodies can be found here.
Contacting your Air Carrier
All European air carriers will have details of how to contact them in order to request assistance, on their websites. Some air carriers will require to contact them by telephone whilst others will ask that you email them. Either way, it is important that you clearly communicate your booking reference and flight details as well as relevant information about any medical or mobility equipment you wish to bring with you when making your request.