Nearly 300 airlines across the world have signed up to a resolution in which they have committed to improve the air travel experience for persons with disabilities around the world. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there are an estimated one billion people living with disabilities worldwide, a considerable number of who travel by air.
The resolution by airlines to provide services that enable persons with disabilities to access safe, reliable and dignified travel was reached at IATA’s 75th annual general meeting, which took place in early June in South Africa’s capital Seoul.
“These principles aim to change the focus from disability to accessibility and inclusion by bringing the travel sector together with governments to harmonize regulations and provide the clarity and global consistency that passengers expect,” said a statement released after the general assembly by IATA’s communications department.
IATA represents some 290 airlines worldwide, comprising 82 per cent of global air traffic.
The Director General and CEO of IATA, Alexandre de Juniac, noted that although airlines were ahead of their time 50 years ago when they set out standards to ensure that passengers with disabilities had access to air travel, the time had to go even further in their continued quest to ease travel for passengers with disabilities.
“The numbers of persons with disabilities travelling by air are set to increase significantly as populations expand and grow older. We applaud the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. With today’s resolution the industry is committed to ensure that passengers living with disability can travel safely and with dignity,” he said.
According the statement, the general assembly’s resolution requests that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) apply IATA’s core principles as the basis for its multilateral initiatives on accessibility for passengers with disabilities.
“This work is vital to help harmonize national legislation and regulations which otherwise could create a patchwork of confusing or even contradictory requirements for passengers and airlines,” says IATA’s post-general assembly statement.
ICAO is a UN specialized agency, established by States in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
An IATA survey of 48 airlines reported that the requests for wheelchair assistance grew 30 per cent between 2016 and 2017, putting strain onto the quality of the service provided.
The association says in its statement that airlines and airports are working together to ensure that wheelchair assistance is available to those who need it. It adds that they are also working to develop other forms of assistance for passengers who are mobile but do not feel comfortable navigating through a large airport.
For passengers with disabilities who travel with their own mobility aids, IATA says the major concern is damage when the equipment is stowed. It adds, however, that airlines are working with associations of passengers with disabilities, airports, ground handlers, and regulators, to look at ways to improve the storage of mobility aids. One option under consideration is to develop standard procedures related to the loading of passengers’ mobility aids.
“We know that many passengers with disabilities rely absolutely on their mobility aids and we recognize that any damage to them can be a serious, even traumatic, issue,” said- de Juniac. “Our aim is to ensure that passengers with disabilities can travel with peace of mind knowing that their mobility aids will arrive undamaged and fit for use.”