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New guidance to improve travel experience for passengers with disabilities

Disabled person in the departure lounge before boarding a plane looks at the scoreboard with a flight schedule
Photo: Dreamstime

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced new guidance to assist airlines and handling agents to transport mobility aids safely and efficiently and improve the travel experience for passengers with disabilities.

Providing safe, reliable and dignified transport for passengers with disabilities is a priority for airlines that was reinforced by a unanimously approved Resolution at the 75th IATA Annual General Meeting in 2019. The safe and efficient transport of mobility aids was identified as a key area for improvement by airlines, working with industry stakeholders and disability groups.

“Airlines are committed to ensuring passengers with disabilities can travel with dignity, confidence and comfort. Working with representatives from the disability community, we established that new protocols to improve the transport of mobility aids were urgently required. This new guidance, created in partnership with key players in the travel chain, will improve service, and significantly reduce damage to these vital devices that are often an extension to the body of a passenger with a disability,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.

Key elements of the new guidance include:

  • Better processes for booking and information exchange, including the use of Special Service Request (SSR) and Passenger Name Requirement (PNR) codes to give advance information on the specifications of mobility aids
  • A recommendation to create an electronic mobility aid tag, fixed to the mobility aid and containing technical information which will help airlines and ground handlers transport the aid safely
  • Advice to airlines on developing a communications toolkit for engaging with passengers with disabilities, including a clearly signposted and accessible website area.
  • Best practices for loading, collection and return of mobility aids
  • A recommendation for dedicated specialized ramp personnel to be trained and deployed to handle mobility aids
  • Guidance for how to properly resolve instances where mobility aids are damaged
  • Revised and enhanced training of ground handlers and airline staff

“Experience shows that communication is key to improving the handling of mobility aids. This guidance sets out steps for passengers, airlines, and the travel chain to exchange information at every stage of the travel journey. It will help airlines perform better and give passengers using mobility aids greater confidence. We’ll be working with our members and stakeholders to operationalize this guidance, and the industry will be reaching out to policymakers to encourage harmonization with national regulations,” said Careen.

The guidance reflects and builds on industry best practices and will continue to be revised and expanded prior to developing into industry standards. Other aspects include recommendations for airport designs to meet accessibility standards, as well as specific guidance to ensure compliance with the Dangerous Goods Regulations (for lithium-battery powered devices), in addition to step-by-step instructions on safely and securely loading mobility aids on board.

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